It is the most difficult thing in the world to be a law student.
A law student is expected to learn all and know all, to be able to explain and communicate clearly muddled concepts, to have a ready answer for everything. The truth in these expectations is evident in the daily recitations, difficult examinations, and the Bar Examinations. Arduous years of training and careful study in the law school, and years more expected outside of it, are devoted to this demanding and jealous profession.
Regulated conduct is not only confined in the law school, but also outside of it. Before a law student is admitted into the practice of law, he must not have been convicted of a crime. He must be of good moral character and uphold the values of dignity and justice.
But perhaps the most difficult thing expected of a law student is to have faith in the law.
This is an expectation of the highest order. The legal institution is an imperfect and perfectly human institution. It is prone to patronage and corruption. Our nation’s courts are clogged with volumes upon volumes of unresolved cases, people languish in jail more than they have to, and litigation may span generations. A sociologist might surmise that a modern institution such as positive law and the institution of the courts is not fully compatible with a society in transition to modernity, still bound by traditional ties of kinship and patronage, which could explain why the wheels of justice in the Philippines do not turn but grind.
And yet it is these conditions which I will face and engage on a daily basis. It is one thing to be critical of the law, another thing to find yourself inside it, and a totally different thing to structure your life around it and still be critical of its flaws while at the same find hope and keep faith in justice.
To have faith in the law is to have faith in the men and women who constantly engage it, who serve the law and the state in the administration of justice, and those who fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. If I am to become part of the legal institution, faith in the law must be a faith that does justice. Having faith in the law means, foremost, having faith in oneself, that the self can be an instrument of change.
In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Josef K stands accused of a crime he did not know he committed. Efforts to learn of the charge lead nowhere but to a maze of bureaucracy. In the course of his search, he chances upon a priest with whom he discusses the Parable of the Law.
A country man seeks admittance to the Law. But before the Law stands a doorkeeper. The doorkeeper informs the country man that beyond the door stands other doorkeepers more towering than him. It is of note that only the doorkeeper stands to bar entry. The Law can clearly be seen from outside the door. The country man asks whether he’ll be allowed entry, and the doorkeeper replies that it’s possible, “but not now.”
He believed that “the Law should be accessible to anyone at any time.” But he decides to wait.
Through years and years of waiting, the country man patiently sat and studied the doorkeeper to the point that he came “to know even the fleas in the doorkeeper’s collar. He bribes the doorkeeper, tried all sorts of machinations, constantly asking for admittance to no avail, until he is old, sick, and near death. Almost at his last breath, the doorkeeper approached and asked:
‘What do you want to know now,’ asks the doorkeeper, ‘you’re insatiable.’ ‘Everyone strives to reach the Law,’ says the man, ‘how does it happen, then, that in all these years no one but me has requested admittance.’ The doorkeeper sees that the man is nearing his end, and in order to reach his failing hearing, he roars at him: ‘No one else could gain admittance here, because this entrance was meant solely for you. I’m going to shut it now.’[2]
Nearing the end of the novel and the life of Josef K, all means of learning about his trial leading nowhere, he is led out by two men to be shot, “like a dog” — K’s final words. Josef K and the country man were simple men in search for answers. Their deaths were an unanswered and unfortunate fate. I cannot help but notice that, throughout K’s search and the country man’s vigil, they still held faith in the law. K could have escaped instead of getting lost in the search of his crime. The country man could have given up instead of waiting until death. Perhaps the only thing they were certain is that they were entitled to the Law. Perhaps it is so with most people — they may not know the law, they may not understand its processes and procedures, but they are certain they are entitled to its protection.
I look back upon Kafka’s work after four years in the Ateneo de Manila University and four years in the Ateneo Law School. It is a great honor and privilege to have graduated from Ateneo. I am forever grateful to the opportunities and perspectives the Ateneo has given me. Ignatian Spirituality speaks of finding God in all things. To find God in the legal institution is to find God in the people of the law. Perhaps nowhere is God more present than in an imperfect and human institution. That it is still capable of reform and that it is driven by human hands and minds, constantly renewed year after year by law students from all over the country aspiring to become lawyers, judges, and justices, are causes for hope.