TEACHING LABOR LAW TO THE ELITE

How do you teach labor law to the rich?  Can the rich appreciate the aims of labor law?  Much depends on the academic atmosphere.
 
Labor laws seek to advance the cause of social justice  – - to distribute wealth, to protect workers from exploitation, to multiply and equalize work opportunities, and, also, to assist business growth.  These socio-economic objectives must be inculcated upon the students; otherwise labor laws teaching will be purposeless and the course itself will become irrelevant because labor law must be understood as legislation aimed at achieving socio-economic justice. It must be viewed as an equalizing force between the rich and the poor, a potent force for fortune and power sharing. The question, however,  is: how do you teach those socio-economic objectives to students who come mostly from the elite, the wealthy families?  They are the families that own business empires, the  families of domineering politicians, power-wielding bureaucrats, and highly paid corporate executives  – -  the people who employ   people.  How do you make  wealthy students understand and appreciate the need to  “humanize the law”   and  “equalize the socio-economic forces”  of the State?
 
Moreover, in a law school supported by the rich and managed by the rich, can you effectively communicate the inequalities and inequities that labor laws are supposed to help rectify?  Can such a school provide an atmosphere of freedom and tolerance that allows full and open ventilation of social, political, and economic imbalance?
 
When I joined the Ateneo Law School faculty more than 25 years ago, Dean Eduardo de los Angeles agreed that I would teach no other subject but labor law because of my background:  a personnel  (or  “human resource”)  manager in a giant business firm, a former teacher of political science and English,  and, relevantly, a former organizer-president of a labor union of teachers. At that time the teaching materials for labor law were scarce and outdated, the  1974 Labor Code not being old enough to be the subject of many court decisions.   I had to develop by own syllabus and teaching notes, guided only by what I knew about the subject and what I thought students should know.  Through the years I expanded and relied on my notes (which later developed into textbooks) without having to ask for any  school approval and without hearing any intrusive comments from school officials.  Along Aristotelian line, I hammered more on the whys and the whats of labor law than on technical and bureaucratic procedures.  I encouraged students to debate on critical substantive provisions such as the right of workers to participate in policy-making, the right to organize, or the right against unjust dismissal.   Law teaching, I believe, consists not only in expounding on statutory provisions but in examining their social implications.  Therefore, law teaching does not call only for discussing the law but inquiring into, even challenging, its avowed objectives.  Particularly as regards labor law, its study and teaching must examine its role in helping or hindering the goal to minimize (if not eradicate) the people’s  poverty.  While observing the scope of the course as described in the catalogue, I injected much socio-economic implications of labor law and its particular links to civil law, management, and political economy.
 
In time I realized that students became so engrossed about some unclear or controversial issues that they wanted to do their own  “study beyond the book.”   So when students requested to be allowed to submit  research papers  in place of a mid-term exam, I agreed.  It occurred to me that this was one way of not imposing my personal bias upon my students, and instead, letting them pursue their interest over a particular issue.
 
Those research reports turn out to be revelations of students’ insights and attitudes about labor law issues.  They supplement, with evidentiary support, the debates that arose in class discussions.  They serve as outlets for the students’ personal views about sensitive issues or debatable court rulings.  In other words, the research reports promote independent, analytical thinking verbalized through organized, assertive writing.  This is prime lawyerly training. They also enrich, for me and the class, our information about labor situations not explained in the Labor Code or in court rulings, such as the declining number of unions, the time it actually takes to decide a labor case, or the emerging problems in call centers.
 
For instance, when the employees’ participation right was first written in the Labor Code in 1989 the novelty of the concept inspired a student to research on its legislative history.  She did turn out a well-documented study, with her own reactions annotated.  Other papers in other semesters tackled such challenging questions as:  “Is the Philippines the only Asian country that has a law on so-called `Labor-only’ Contracting?” and “What is the trend in unionism in the Philippines?”. Another student wondered why the law allows compulsory union membership, while another wanted to identify the bases of   “strike in good faith”.  A puzzled student wondered:  “Why limit to economic strikes the binding effect of a no-strike clause?”  And still another student inquired:  “What guidelines does the Secretary of Labor observe in the exercise of the Assumption-of-Jurisdiction power?”  Not surprisingly, one student spiritedly blurted out:  “Sir, why not just abolish the Labor Code and let the law on contracts prevail?” and he promised to justify in his term paper the arguments pros and cons.  A similarly concerned student wanted to re-examine the doctrine that employees of a cooperative cannot unionize, while another sought to verify whether the DOLE is doing enough to educate the people about labor laws.
 
These individual study reports allow free interplay of views on labor issues and deepen the students’ understanding of labor law.
 
The most gratifying discovery from these academic explorations is the fact that my labor law students, though mostly bred in life of wealth, are fully capable of appreciating the reasons and the aims of labor law.  They, probably without exception, are capable of seeing, feeling and understanding the travails of workers, the very people that help produce and sustain their families’ wealth.   Many if not most of them drive their own cars and jot down notes with their laptops, but they are serious law students with balanced viewpoints bearing marks of leaders and heroes.  They recognize objective facts, confront crisscrossing opinions, and search for pristine truth.    They are simply and fully human.  They are capable, at least as students, of ignoring or even submerging their economic advantages for the social justice aims “to humanize the law” and “to equalize the socio-economic forces of the state.”   In fine, I am convinced that my students, though mostly coming from wealthy families, do appreciate labor law as a necessary subject of study and as a significant force that can rectify or minimize societal inequalities.
 
When I experimented on this research-report-requirement in my labor law classes, I did not ask, nor was I told to ask for, the school’s approval.  Then and now no official of the school has ever questioned the content and the manner of my labor law teaching, and I have sensed no reason to discontinue it.  Dean Cynthia del Castillo in 2001 named me chairman of the labor law department and the next deans, Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J. and Cesar L. Villanueva,  sustained it.  (Two other universities invited me into their faculty.)
 
The mission of the Ateneo Law School, its catalogue says, is “the formation of men and women not only skilled in the science and art of the law but also imbued with a burning passion for justice and the fervent desire to serve others.”
 
This mission statement  guided me  when I formulated the method I would adopt in teaching labor law.  And when, since 1980s, I maintained the research reports as a course requirement,  I found it  justified by a related  statement in the catalogue.  “. . .  [T]he Ateneo Law School insists on intellectual rigor in the tradition of Jesuit education.  Intellectual rigor demands, inter alia, a thorough grasp of the nature and ends of law, the ability to express legal conviction in forceful oral and written communication, and sensitivity to the role of law as an instrument of service towards individuals and of social engineering.”
 
Social engineering is indeed an unwritten aim of the labor laws and I am grateful that in Ateneo law school the avenues towards social engineering are plentiful, free, and open.  Intellectual rigor is an unquestioned demand.  Academic freedom abounds.
 
The constitutionalist and Dean Emeritus Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas explains that academic freedom under the Constitution includes institutional academic freedom, faculty academic freedom, and student academic freedom.Succinctly, academic freedom,  says M. M. Chambers of Illinois State University, means the liberty to pursue the truth wherever rational inquiry leads.  In a quarter-century of teaching, I experienced and am still experiencing academic freedom.  Never has elitism been injected or obtruded into my decades of Ateneo teaching – - no, not once by anyone.
 
Freedom in teaching a socially sensitive subject to students remotely involved in it  but fully capable of imbibing its social (and socialistic) imperatives;  freedom of expression  (oral, written, or visual)  of the faculty and students;  freedom of students to visualize their  future role and to start defining their worklife philosophy amid sparks of intelligence or  wisdom in class discussions, debates and research – -   these freedoms I have found,  lived, and advocated as an Ateneo Law School teacher.  For more than twenty-five years, these freedoms have allowed me to pursue my passion for labor law, and to expand and to spread it, not just as a law subject but as an instrument for socio-economic justice.  All this for just one aim:  to subdue an age-old monstrosity:  the Filipinos’ poverty.  By nurturing academic freedom that enables these tasks, the Ateneo Law School is, I think, ascending to greatness.
 
Prof. Cesario Azucena is a member of the faculty of the Ateneo Law School.