The Human Rights Center
of the Ateneo Law School
Keynote speech of Fr.
Joaquin Bernas, SJ at the first Internship Congress in Antipolo
City, December 3-4, 2005
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address the students
and interns who, through the years, have formed the heart of the
Human Rights Center. Since its inception in 1986, the Center has
quickly become a very important element of the law school and it
is indeed high time that we celebrate the one program that it started
out with and which, I am told, has made a lasting impact on many
a law student’s life.
The Ateneo Law School is, in the world outside Rockwell, usually
perceived as a darn good law school fortunate enough to have a great
record in the bar exams and unfortunate enough to have a very opinionated
geezer currently styled as dean emeritus.
However, a fact which is sometimes overlooked and which definitely
needs emphasizing is that the Ateneo Law School is not only a very
good law school but that it is a Catholic institution. Come to that,
it is not only a Catholic institution but a Jesuit one. And as a
Jesuit establishment, it shares in the core mission of all Jesuit
institutions. The 34th General Congregation, the most recent and
the highest legislative assembly of the Jesuit Order, has placed
all Jesuit institutions within the framework of the Church’s overall
mission of evangelization, understood not only as proclamation of
the Christian faith but also as life-witness especially to a
faith that accomplishes justice.
As a school of law therefore, the Ateneo Law School aims to form
not only men and women 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. So while the Ateneo insists on intellectual
rigor in the tradition of Jesuit education, it also actively
integrates into its programs opportunities for the deepening and
maturing of Christian commitment and for participation in social
mobilization for the creation of a more just social order.
Reacting to arguments that the bar examinations have caused the
deterioration of Philippine legal education, Dean Cesar Villanueva
opined that it is not the bar but the non-compliance with the law
schools’ true missions which has caused such deterioration. He pointed
out that [and I quote]:
It has been the standard fare to accuse ALS as one of
the leading law schools that over-emphasizes the taking of Bar Examinations.
When an institution of learning and training has as its main clientele
law students who would be future applicants for a government licensure
examination, it is sheer irresponsibility if that institution’s
students are not even fit to pass the very licensure examination
meant to determine who would be authorized and qualified to exercise
such profession. Such an irresponsible institution deserves no less
than being closed down. ALS, as a responsible law school, takes
the prospects of its graduates taking the bar examinations seriously,
as any responsible law school should; but never to
the exclusion of other primary responsibilities. 1
[End of quote.]
For eighteen years, the Center has, with quiet toil and sans fanfare,
worked to help the law school achieve these primary responsibilities.
For eighteen years, the internship program has, with dogged determination
and without faltering, strove to kindle in volunteers an inextinguishable
passion not only for the law but, more importantly, for the human
faces and communities which such law should serve.
To the question - Has it been a successful program? – The answer
is - Conceivably. What are the indicators?
The fledgling internship program in 1986 has now been replicated
with the Center’s help in many provincial law schools. The Alternative
Law Groups, Inc., a coalition of 17 legal NGOs, has sought to adopt
it on a national scale.
In 1993, it was the experiences of law student interns during their
summers of working for the poor and marginalized which gave birth
to AKAP, the Center’s child rights desk which, I know for a fact,
is one of the first law groups in the country to specialize in the
area of legal promotion and protection of children’s rights.
But what of “kindling in volunteers an inextinguishable passion”
to serve? Has it been successful there? Indubitably. Through the
years, I’ve heard stories of interns which have never failed to
warm the cockles of my heart. Ateneans working with the communities
in places like Central Luzon and Southern Mindanao; Ateneans working
for multinationals and advocating corporate social responsibility;
Ateneans speaking their minds on the many political issues plaguing
our country and representing the national interest before the Supreme
Court; Ateneans helping the UN and other international organizations
in trying to make the world’s citizens co-exist in peace; Ateneans
in law practice, busy going about their business in their workaday
worlds with a fair mind and a compassionate heart. True men and
women for others.
Has the program really touched so many lives? Beyond doubt. I only
have to look at the faces before me today to know that.
It was therefore gratifying for me when Cesar Villanueva, upon
becoming dean in 2003, announced immediately that the thrust of
his deanship would be to maintain quality education while preparing
students “to consummate their lives in trying to serve basically
what Philippine society is all about: a poor country that needs
quality representation and quality advocacy.” He has in fact expressed
his conviction that the Human Rights Center plays an essential role
in exposing many of our law students to the cause of those who belong
to the marginalized sectors of society. I therefore am assured that
the dean, my successor if you will, understands and appreciates
not only the noble mission of the school but also the integral part
which the Human Rights Center and the internship program plays in
the fulfillment of such mission.
For the last eighteen years, the Law School has seen scores of
interns pass through its doors. The walls of the Law School has
borne witness to the Center’s endeavors to form men and women for
others who will live by the words: Non nobis, Domine, non nobis
habet sed tibi sit gloria. Not to us, Lord, not to us but to You
be the glory.
Men and women who any law school would be proud to call their own
but who are Ateneans in the truest sense. I am privileged to be
with so many of them today.
Cesar L. Villanueva, Defining the Gravamen:
The Bar Reform Movement, 48 Ateneo L.J. 624, 651 (2003).