WHAT I LOVE IN ATENEO LAW SCHOOL

The Ateneo Law School (ALS) gives me the opportunity to be polished from a lowly coal to a diamond. Although still far from the perfection of that flawless precious stone, this thought pervades me as I prepare this piece as my modest contribution to the Ateneo Law School’s celebration of its 75th year, its Diamond Year.

My entry in 1983 as a law student in our beloved Alma Mater astounded many of my kababayans in Cabcaben (Mariveles, Bataan). Not for a single moment did anyone of them foresee me, a daughter of a dressmaker and bus driver, enrolling in a school which they perceived as an exclusive academic niche of the elites in Philippine society.  Inspired by my early triumphs as Valedictorian in grade school and high school and Cum Laude in my undergraduate course, I dreamt and persevered to acquire higher learning in law. The stark reality that we were nine (9) siblings then who relied for support from our parents did not stop me from pursuing an Ateneo legal education. My unwavering faith and courage paid off. Through the Dr. Antonio del Castillo Memorial Scholarship Award, I was able to study at the ALS for five (5) semesters for free. Indeed, Goethe was right when he said: “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

My ALS experience as a student happened more than two (2) decades ago. But its magic has never lost its power in me and more so in my townmates in Cabcaben, who since then has looked up to the ALS not only with respect but with gratitude for accepting and giving a legal education par excellence to me, one of their own—a reflection of their dreams and aspirations.

All these make me love the ALS. But I love it even more for the fact that my revered mentors and peers back then continue to be a part of my endeavors and travails now as nationwide head of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) as well as human rights and legal aid advocate. Foremost among these is Dean Cesar L. Villanueva, who was my professor then and who invited me to teach Civil Law subjects and Seminar in Public Legal Assistance. The latter has attracted future public attorneys as proven by the steady increase of Atenean apprentices and lawyer applicants at the PAO. With these young men and women for others, we at the PAO continuously serve the Filipino people and our beloved country in the Ignatian spirit of giving without counting the cost…toiling without asking for any reward but knowing that it is the Lord’s will that we are all doing.

The Ignatian academic discipline and concept of servant leadership which the ALS has ingrained in me permeate my paper on human rights. This was recognized by the Ateneo de Manila University-Loyola, together with the Asian Public Intellectuals (API) Fellowships of the Nippon Foundation when they awarded me with an API Senior Fellowship in 2003.  Honors and grants like this, for me, are fruits of my ALS education. For all this, I will always be grateful to the ALS and forever will my deep affection be to our dear Alma Mater.