April 20, 2024

Maiba naman, although our continuing “salamat po” sa frontline workers.
In the schools of law all over, including that where I graduated from and ended up being its dean primus inter pares (first among equals), there is an honor roll of academic “terrorists” masquerading as professors whose chief goal in life was to let the freshman know that he does not deserve to become a lawyer.
Picture one who graduates with honors in his undergraduate course or is a top practitioner (CPA, nursing, med tech, HRM, journalism, etc.) in his field then enrolls a Bachelor of Laws course, they actually call it now Juris Doctor. Once he enters the room as a freshman, he literally loses all his person, dignity, and honor; is made to read volumes of books, digests and writes at least 30 Supreme Court decisions a week; harassed, told to recite, interrogated, and cross-examined like a suspect, cajoled, threatened, insulted, cursed, and made to stand all in an hour, until the next three classes for the day.
Our Criminal Law professor, the late Justice Salvador Valdez, put us in our proper place from day one when he said, “Being a first year Law student means you are only in “advanced high school.” Some of them, no more names for now, curse you to high heavens when you cannot properly answer or have wrong grammar or sentence construction. And first year law is your realization that the expression “PI mo” is more palatable in Tagalog than in Ilocano. Flying erasers, chalks, classcards or depende sa mood, books are common. One of them assigns the cases where the answer is found not in the body of the case while the other goes to the minutest detail like “What is the color of the car that the accused was riding in?” The favorite is the she, who makes you stand if you don’t get it right up to the first bell and her class is two full hours. Of course, all the spirit of wanting to join the noblest profession of it all, no naughty you, not prostitution.
Where is all this leading to? Last Tuesday while everyone was quarantined, the Supreme Court came out with a shocker, no not an early release of the 2019 Bar Exam results (April 15 daw, Anton) but saying that “confusing recitation questions are unlawful for causing anxiety and panic.”
Voting en banc, 15-0, in the case of Asakapa v. Basakana & Magtanong (G.R. No. 119190, March 31, 2020), the SC declared as illegal all recitation questions in law school that cause confusion and panic among law students. Worse, the High Court penalized the erring professor P50,000 and his dean who tolerated it, P10,000.
In the case, the petitioner Asakapa K. Asi is a first-year law student of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines. Respondent Atty. Ho Y. Basakana was the dean while Atty. Ma. Hera P. Magtanong was his professor in Criminal Law I (Criminal Law Principles). The law student Asakapa was made to stand in his Criminal Law class for almost two hours due to his failure to answer basic questions such as, “What is a crime? What is a felony? What is an offense? What is culpa? What is dolo?”
Prof. Magtanong explained that this barbaric torture of the mental faculties in law school should not be taken against her because it has been a long-standing tradition in the Philippines dating as far back as 1901. She added that all lawyers, judges, justices, and law experts have gone through the same humiliating and difficult experience of answering almost impossible legal questions from law professors.
According to the SC, “Extremely difficult law school recitation questions cause physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, and social humiliation, citing Article 2217 of Republic Act 386 or the New Civil Code. The Court stated there is no point in such mental and psychological torture if law schools truly aim quality education and hope to produce quality lawyers.
The SC further explained that law professors who abuse and maltreat their students with difficult questions during recitations should be fined P50,000 for each instance of extremely difficult and confusing recitation question (each question) that would cause the student a feeling of panic, discomfort, and humiliation. Law school deans, on the other hand, who allow such practice shall pay P10,000 only.
Lawyers and legal eagles are up in arms, denouncing the decision as a direct affront to academic freedom and an assault against the century-old law school tradition that the Philippine legal system cherishes and protects. Nevertheless, according to Prof. Magtanong, they are ready to file a motion for reconsideration and hopefully last April 2 did, but 15-0, asa ka pa!
Sigh.