An exercise in memory: Fr. B through his students

July 08, 2018

Tributes upon tributes have been written about him. He is a man of many titles: lawyer, Jesuit, Constitutionalist, University President, and Dean Emeritus. As he turns 86 on July 8, the Ateneo de Manila University celebrates Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ the teacher. His students and colleagues share fond memories of their time with Fr. B.
 

 

Fr. Bernas—or Fr. B as his students fondly call him— in an issue of The Guidon in 1985, during his time as President of Ateneo. Photo courtesy of The Guidon/Ateneo University Archives

Atty. Armand Louis T. Dulay (BS Legal Management ’11, J.D. ’15)
 

Class you had with Fr B: Constitutional Law I
 
Describe the feeling of first entering his classroom. What was your first impression of him?
It was humbling because this man is legendary. Just to be in the presence, let alone to be taught by one of the writers of the 1987 Constitution, is something not every Filipino law student can experience. When I first saw him, I was like, “Wow, this [being in law school] is really happening. I better step up.” I’ll never forget that time I bumped into him at the elevator and he recognized me and said “Oh, Mr. Dulay! How are you?” I didn’t think he’d remember me because I sat all the way at the back of the class! But he did and I was humbled.
 

A photo from the birthday party Armand’s class threw for Fr. B in 2011.
Photo courtesy of Armand Dulay

What is your fondest—or most unforgettable—memory of Fr B?
I got called in his class. Fr. B was known for having an order in the way he called students to recite. So for the first day of class, the class cards handed to him were alphabetically arranged. The girl called before me was asked to recite the Preamble. I knew I was next to be called. So I memorized the Preamble and the write-up about it in his book. In my nervousness, I stood up before he even called my last name! He asked how I knew it was my turn. I couldn’t answer so he just asked me to recite Article I of the Constitution. Again, I couldn’t answer because I was prepared to answer a question on the Preamble.
 
What did you learn from him that you still carry with you until today?
Always be prepared. Always be ready for anything.
 
What is one word you’d use to sum up Fr. B?

Legendary.

Maita Chan-Gonzaga (BS Psychology ’97, J.D. ‘02)
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs of the Ateneo Law School

 
Class you had with Fr B: Constitutional Law 1, Constitutional Law 2, Public International Law. Plus, he was my law thesis adviser.
 
Describe the feeling of first entering his classroom. What was your first impression of him?
That here was a brilliant man blessed with inspiration and yet steadfastly refuses to take himself too seriously.
 

“A friend of mine, a lawyer based in Cebu,” said Atty. Maita, “had a photo of that day and drew an acrylic painting of it for me last year. Nice way to mark the 15th year since we took the Bar in 2002.” Photo courtesy of Maita Chan-Gonzaga

What is your fondest—or most unforgettable—memory of Fr B?
Him patiently waiting for us outside La Salle (where we took the Bar exams) on the last Sunday. After the final gruelling hours of the month-long rite of passage, we come out exhausted and there he was in the crowd waiting for us, beaming smile and all. He had this bottle of champagne in hand, just ready to celebrate with us. He was our biggest cheerleader really.

What did you learn from him that you still carry with you until today?
Fr. B has been my peg for equanimity since 1998. I haven’t been nearly as successful but am still trying. Oh, and I hear him in my head when I teach Consti. =)
 
What is one word you’d use to sum up Fr. B?
Nonpareil.

 
Atty. Lily Gruba (LL.B'76)
Executive Director of the Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J. Institute for Continuing Legal Education

 

Atty. Lily with Fr. B. Photo courtesy of Lily Gruba

 

Class you had with Fr B: Constitutional Law 1, Constituional Law 2, Administrative Law, Political Law Review
 
Describe the feeling of first entering his classroom. What was your first impression of him?
He had a mysterious air about him that was sure to intimidate anyone, even the smartest in the class.
 
What is your fondest—or most unforgettable—memory of Fr B?
While I was in the law School I had the incredible opportunity of serving as Fr. B’s research assistant. The conversations that I had with him, in and out of the school setting, were sources of knowledge and wisdom.
 
What did you learn from him that you still carry with you until today?
In our profession as lawyers, time and time again, our morals and ethics will be put to test.  It is important to have a strong sense of morals and ethics, and it is equally important to find time to look back and evaluate decisions and actions to ensure that we still live by those morals and ethics.
 
What is one word you’d use to sum up Fr B?
He is sui generis.  There is—there will be—no one like him.

 

Dean Candelaria sharing a laugh with Fr. B onstage at the 60th Commencement Exercises of the Ateneo Law School. Photo courtesy of Sedfrey Candelaria 

Though technically not Fr. B’s student, Sedfrey Candelaria (AB Political Science ’80, LL.B. ’84), former Dean of the Ateneo Law School, still has fond memories of his mentor and colleague.
 
Fr. Bernas was an excellent lecturer in Constitutional Law. He presented the fundamental principles in a succinct manner. I had the benefit of being mentored by Fr. Bernas in my early years of teaching the same subject. He had a profound respect for my capacity as a young faculty trying to learn the ropes of teaching. He was very generous in giving his insights on the nuances of the subject.
 
I remember distinctly how he gave our team of lawyers at the Ateneo Human Rights Center the much needed guidance in handling test cases in Constitutional Law, such as the Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor, Constitutionality of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, Davide Impeachment, among others. Fr Bernas’ opinion on key constitutional issues has been highly regarded by lawmakers, practitioners and even the Justices of the Supreme Court.
 
As an administrator, I always held dear his comment that “money is not a problem but the solution.” When he held the deanship for a second term, he gave us the marching order that “nothing comes to my table,” suggesting autonomy on our part as Associate Deans.  It also gave him the luxury of concentrating on the finer points of administration and being the institutional voice in high profile national concerns. He took interest in our career paths as faculty and researchers in law. He inspired us to take the path less traveled in law - human rights lawyering. It is an experience I will always cherish.
 
 

The responses have been edited for clarity and length. 

News Archive

  • An exercise in memory: Fr. B through his students
    Sunday, July 08, 2018

    Tributes upon tributes have been written about him. He is a man of many titles: lawyer, Jesuit, Constitutionalist, University President, and Dean Emeritus. As he turns 86 on July 8, the Ateneo de Manila University celebrates Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ the teacher. His students and colleagues share fond memories of their time with Fr. B.
     

     

    Fr. Bernas—or Fr. B as his students fondly call him— in an issue of The Guidon in 1985, during his time as President of Ateneo. Photo courtesy of The Guidon/Ateneo University Archives

    Atty. Armand Louis T. Dulay (BS Legal Management ’11, J.D. ’15)
     

    Class you had with Fr B: Constitutional Law I
     
    Describe the feeling of first entering his classroom. What was your first impression of him?
    It was humbling because this man is legendary. Just to be in the presence, let alone to be taught by one of the writers of the 1987 Constitution, is something not every Filipino law student can experience. When I first saw him, I was like, “Wow, this [being in law school] is really happening. I better step up.” I’ll never forget that time I bumped into him at the elevator and he recognized me and said “Oh, Mr. Dulay! How are you?” I didn’t think he’d remember me because I sat all the way at the back of the class! But he did and I was humbled.
     

    A photo from the birthday party Armand’s class threw for Fr. B in 2011.
    Photo courtesy of Armand Dulay

    What is your fondest—or most unforgettable—memory of Fr B?
    I got called in his class. Fr. B was known for having an order in the way he called students to recite. So for the first day of class, the class cards handed to him were alphabetically arranged. The girl called before me was asked to recite the Preamble. I knew I was next to be called. So I memorized the Preamble and the write-up about it in his book. In my nervousness, I stood up before he even called my last name! He asked how I knew it was my turn. I couldn’t answer so he just asked me to recite Article I of the Constitution. Again, I couldn’t answer because I was prepared to answer a question on the Preamble.
     
    What did you learn from him that you still carry with you until today?
    Always be prepared. Always be ready for anything.
     
    What is one word you’d use to sum up Fr. B?

    Legendary.

    Maita Chan-Gonzaga (BS Psychology ’97, J.D. ‘02)
    Associate Dean for Academic Affairs of the Ateneo Law School

     
    Class you had with Fr B: Constitutional Law 1, Constitutional Law 2, Public International Law. Plus, he was my law thesis adviser.
     
    Describe the feeling of first entering his classroom. What was your first impression of him?
    That here was a brilliant man blessed with inspiration and yet steadfastly refuses to take himself too seriously.
     

    “A friend of mine, a lawyer based in Cebu,” said Atty. Maita, “had a photo of that day and drew an acrylic painting of it for me last year. Nice way to mark the 15th year since we took the Bar in 2002.” Photo courtesy of Maita Chan-Gonzaga

    What is your fondest—or most unforgettable—memory of Fr B?
    Him patiently waiting for us outside La Salle (where we took the Bar exams) on the last Sunday. After the final gruelling hours of the month-long rite of passage, we come out exhausted and there he was in the crowd waiting for us, beaming smile and all. He had this bottle of champagne in hand, just ready to celebrate with us. He was our biggest cheerleader really.

    What did you learn from him that you still carry with you until today?
    Fr. B has been my peg for equanimity since 1998. I haven’t been nearly as successful but am still trying. Oh, and I hear him in my head when I teach Consti. =)
     
    What is one word you’d use to sum up Fr. B?
    Nonpareil.

     
    Atty. Lily Gruba (LL.B'76)
    Executive Director of the Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J. Institute for Continuing Legal Education

     

    Atty. Lily with Fr. B. Photo courtesy of Lily Gruba

     

    Class you had with Fr B: Constitutional Law 1, Constituional Law 2, Administrative Law, Political Law Review
     
    Describe the feeling of first entering his classroom. What was your first impression of him?
    He had a mysterious air about him that was sure to intimidate anyone, even the smartest in the class.
     
    What is your fondest—or most unforgettable—memory of Fr B?
    While I was in the law School I had the incredible opportunity of serving as Fr. B’s research assistant. The conversations that I had with him, in and out of the school setting, were sources of knowledge and wisdom.
     
    What did you learn from him that you still carry with you until today?
    In our profession as lawyers, time and time again, our morals and ethics will be put to test.  It is important to have a strong sense of morals and ethics, and it is equally important to find time to look back and evaluate decisions and actions to ensure that we still live by those morals and ethics.
     
    What is one word you’d use to sum up Fr B?
    He is sui generis.  There is—there will be—no one like him.

     

    Dean Candelaria sharing a laugh with Fr. B onstage at the 60th Commencement Exercises of the Ateneo Law School. Photo courtesy of Sedfrey Candelaria 

    Though technically not Fr. B’s student, Sedfrey Candelaria (AB Political Science ’80, LL.B. ’84), former Dean of the Ateneo Law School, still has fond memories of his mentor and colleague.
     
    Fr. Bernas was an excellent lecturer in Constitutional Law. He presented the fundamental principles in a succinct manner. I had the benefit of being mentored by Fr. Bernas in my early years of teaching the same subject. He had a profound respect for my capacity as a young faculty trying to learn the ropes of teaching. He was very generous in giving his insights on the nuances of the subject.
     
    I remember distinctly how he gave our team of lawyers at the Ateneo Human Rights Center the much needed guidance in handling test cases in Constitutional Law, such as the Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor, Constitutionality of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, Davide Impeachment, among others. Fr Bernas’ opinion on key constitutional issues has been highly regarded by lawmakers, practitioners and even the Justices of the Supreme Court.
     
    As an administrator, I always held dear his comment that “money is not a problem but the solution.” When he held the deanship for a second term, he gave us the marching order that “nothing comes to my table,” suggesting autonomy on our part as Associate Deans.  It also gave him the luxury of concentrating on the finer points of administration and being the institutional voice in high profile national concerns. He took interest in our career paths as faculty and researchers in law. He inspired us to take the path less traveled in law - human rights lawyering. It is an experience I will always cherish.
     
     

    The responses have been edited for clarity and length.