PART I: Three Words For Graduates
(This is the first part of “Interregnum, Calling, and Resurrection: What is at stake today for young Mindanawon Lawyers,” the commencement address delivered by Professor Antonio Gabriel M. La Viña at the Cor Jesus College Law School in Digos City, Davao del Sur on 24 April 2018)
Three words for you, dear graduates, on this day of your commencement. First, Interregnum(a word I borrow from my favorite Marxian philosopher Antonio Gramsci) – I will describe and try to explain the upheaval our society and the world is confronting right now, its manifestations in the legal and justice system. Second,Calling– How do we respond to this upheaval? What can we positively do so another Mindanao, Philippines and world – prosperous, sustainable, peaceful, and just – is created? Finally, my third word for today, Resurrection– How do we overcome frustrations and fears during this Interregnum and where will the resources for this mission of reform come from? Is there hope for our island, country, and world?
Whatever your partisan political views are, most of you would probably agree with me that there is much upheaval going on in our country today. The legal and justice system has not been spared from that. In fact, for a time, I was worried that I would have to change my commencement speech at the last minute if the Supreme Court decided the quo warranto petition against Chief Justice today as originally rumored. Now of course, it is rumored that this decision will be handed down on May 17. In a while, I will share with you my thoughts about what is at stake in this case for us in the legal profession as well as for the country.
The upheaval is not just in our country but is a global phenomenon. One would have thought that certain principles and rules, for example on human rights, have already been settled and accepted universally. But that is not the case. We are in an age of legal and political anomie – a state where the old rules are being questioned and rejected but the new rules have not yet emerged or are struggling to be born. Gramsci, who is Italian and founder of its communist party, described such moments in history this way: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
I propose that we are in this moment of an interregnum right now and that there are many morbid symptoms that we see. But before I discuss some of the latter, let me be clear that I am not blaming your most famous alumnus for this.(Note from MindaNews: President Rodrigo Duterte finished high school at Cor Jesu) While I am critical of the President’s words and actions on human rights, the democratic process, and foreign policy, I am appreciative of his political will in addressing such problems as Boracay’s environmental issues, the overall vision for constitutional change and the excellent work currently being done by the Consultative Committee headed by former Chief Justice Puno, and the administration’s infrastructure program Build Build Build. I am also supportive of the Bangsamoro and National Democratic Front peace processes and hope those will be back on track and completed soon.
In short, I am neither DDS nor dilawan. I am a Mindanawon, Filipino, and global citizen and my political views are shaped and influenced by what is good: (a) for our island so that the promise of this great land may be finally fulfilled, (b) our archipelago, which includes the whole of our national territory and exclusive economic zone, our people, with particular attention on poor and marginalized Filipinos; and the world, because we belong to a global community in one planet that must be protected and with shared values on human rights, peace, and justice. None of these identities trump each other: I am all three as a citizen and to these I add Christian, Catholic, and humanist as identities, sinful and imperfect as I am, I aspire to be.
As an academic, I try to be always independent and objective, as balanced as possible. As a consensus builder, I seek to find agreement and ways forward building on common and shared values. And as one who tries to be consistent in my faith, I do not judge people. This is why I have been able to work with all our Presidents, from Cory Aquino to Duterte, on environmental issues, climate change, and the Moro and NDF peace processes. This is why I am able to say that the Aquino administration violated the rights of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the Duterte government is doing the same thing to Senator Leila De Lima. This why for me the Corona impeachment opened a Pandora’s box that released forces that undermined our judiciary and we are seeing that terrible consequence elevated to a new high in the Sereno impeachment and quo warranto case.
Tomorrow: The Morbid Symptoms
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Antonio La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean and currently professor at Ateneo School of Government, as well as Constitutional Law professor of Xavier University, University of the Philippines College of Law, Polytechnic University of the Philippines College of Law, De La Salle University College of Law, San Beda Graduate School of Law, Lyceum College of Law and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Graduate School of Law. He was also a member of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF from January to June 2010 following the aborted signing of the already initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008).