CONSTITUTIONAL LAW KILLS A DISCIPLE
I READ THE SAD NEWS RECENTLY that former Senator Miriam Santiago's youngest son AR killed himself after getting a failing mark in constitutional law. AR was a freshman law student at the Ateneo School of Law, The same school where I studied and got my law degree in 1995. It must have been really hard for the boy. And having gone through an almost similar ordeal back in my time (I got a 76, one point above the passing mark), I must say I can understand why such a small thing for people who don't understand can be such a big thing for the former senator's son.
Of the four major subjects in freshman law class (Criminal Law, Persons and Family Relations, Labor Standards and Constitutional Law 1), Constitutional Law (or "consti" in law student speak), is the toughest. It has the most number of accompanying literature -i.e., cases dating all the way back to the turn of the century, think U.S. v. Springer . Further, the number of cases is growing everyday. The recent decision in Francisco v. House of Representatives will surely be in next year's syllabus. And for politically-inclined individuals like me, constitutional law is the subject you learn to love and to hate. You love it because it's a living history. Was the 1973 Constitution validly ratified? Read Javellana v. Executive Secretary. Should Marcos be allowed to return to the Philippines? The answer is found in the Marcos v. Manglapuz twin cases. Did GMA validly assume power? It's in Estrada v. Arroyo. You hate it because it will keep you up for many nights. Each of the leading cases I mentioned above is at least 100 pages long, and there is more. Worse, in spite of all the hardwork, you will find it hard to snare. It's a language on its own. In the universe of law, constitutional law is like an entire planet and it's either you are in it or not. In my time, my teachers, Prof. Sedfrey Candelaria (also AR's prof) and Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S. J., could only help us so much. After pointing out what's important and what's not, they left their students on their own as we tried to digest, process and apply, with fear and trembling, this body of law and thought in class recitations and exams. 76 is a low mark, even humiliating, but it was enough to keep me in class.
When I took the review class with Prof. Jacinto Jimenez, I managed to get an 87 (it's a low B+ but it's still a B+). I thought I had already grasped this elusive subject then. But when I took the bar in which Constitutional Law was a three-unit exam and the bar results were released my grade was a 74! Bagsak! I could still remember the 1995 bar exams on constitutional law in which the first question was "What is social justice?" and the follow up question was "Compare the provisions of the 1935, 1973 and the 1987 Constitutions on social justice." For five minutes, I sat petrified thinking of how I was going to review for the next bar exams. All those years of toiling, photocopying cases, reading on the bus, skipping meals were all going to be lost in a question so basic, we never discussed it in class, yet so deep it cuts across generations of thought on Philippine governance and dissent. I knew I was going to flunk. It's a good thing that my other grades in the other bar subjects pulled it up and I managed to eventually pass the bar with an average in the line 8. But constitutional law sure proved to be an enigma to haunt me to this very day.
Why would a young man kill himself for flunking constitutional law? I guess he lost sight of possibilities beyond constitutional law. To a student of law, law is life and life is law and constitutional law is the law to die for. People have died for the re-establishment of the Philippine constitutional order. How many times did military adventurists try to replace it with guns, bombs and slogans? And always, this nation re-affirmed its commitment to this constitutional order. Constitutional law holds this country together and keeps it from breaking apart. Constitutional law is us. And to a young man who has dedicated himself to the study and practice of the law, the inability to grasp the essence of this rich but difficult field was a set back which could have meant the end of a promising life and career. What was left to live for? A life of mediocre existence is a life not worthy of living.
It is sad that nobody was there to console AR in his hour of need to tell him about life's possibilities beyond constitutional law or the law career. Sometimes I wonder what might have been had I received a 74 instead of 76 in my own time. For a fleeting second I could have thought of suicide, but unlike AR, I would have been able to snap out of it, guitar in tow, with a thought that I could still become a rock star, a novelist, a teacher or a farmer. It wouldn't have been a problem. But who could have known? That fleeting second could have been all that was needed to poke a gun on my head and pull the trigger. That was all it took for AR to shoot himself -- a singular moment of frustration and despair.
Who is to blame for AR's death? Is it the elitist law school system that cold-heartedly rejects those who don't make the grade? Is it the myopic Philippine society that demands that we live up to our parents' academic credentials? Is it the culture of violence that allows guns to be casually accessible to any member of the family? Or is it simply constitutional law -- the fascinating, rich, enigmatic, tough, beautiful, and elusive field of law that embodies the best and the worst of our nation's people and history?
I guess for now, it is more relevant to hope and pray that in the space and time where he is, AR, the anguished disciple, will find the possibilities that law school would not let him find in this place and in this time.