An Inquirer article caught my eye which will cause not a few raised eyebrows and guffaws among my esteemed compaÃ±eros and compaÃ±eras in the profession.
In a recent resolution, Judge Medel Arnaldo B. Belen of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Calamba, Laguna was reprimanded by the Supreme Court for unbecoming conduct. It seems the good magistrate told a lawyer appearing before him that since he (the lawyer) did not graduate from the UP College of Law, he and the judge could not be equals. He was referring to Atty. Melvin D.C. Mane, who referred to himself as “a proud graduate of MLQU”.
What apparently pissed off Judge Belen was the insinuations of partiality which Atty. Mane previously made in his pleadings before the court and a motion for inhibition which the judge felt was “a direct assault on his integrity and dignity”. This made him testy with the lawyer, which led to a discussion which transpired in open hearing and went like this:
. . . Sir, are you from the College of Law of the University of the Philippines?
No, your Honor, from Manuel L. Quezon University, your Honor.
No, you’re not from UP.
I am very proud of it.
Then you’re not from UP. Then you cannot equate yourself to me because there is a saying and I know this, not all law students are created equal, not all law schools are created equal, not all lawyers are created equal despite what the Supreme Being that we all are created equal in His form and substance.
This became the basis of a charge of unbecoming conduct filed by Atty. Mane with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) of the Supreme Court against Judge Belen for “demeaning, humiliating and berating” him. He later withdrew the charge, citing his “impulsiveness”, but the die had been cast and the OCA decided to investigate the complaint.
In reprimanding the good judge, the High Court, in a decision penned by Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, herself a U.P. alumna, rightfully said:
An alumnus of a particular law school has no monopoly of knowledge of the law. By hurdling the Bar Examinations which this Court administers, taking of the Lawyer’s oath, and signing of the Roll of Attorneys, a lawyer is presumed to be competent to discharge his functions and duties as, inter alia, an officer of the court, irrespective of where he obtained his law degree. For a judge to determine the fitness or competence of a lawyer primarily on the basis of his alma mater is clearly an engagement in an argumentum ad hominem.
A judge must address the merits of the case and not on the person of the counsel. If respondent felt that his integrity and dignity were being “assaulted,” he acted properly when he directed complainant to explain why he should not be cited for contempt. He went out of bounds, however, when he, as the above-quoted portions of the transcript of stenographic notes show, engaged on a supercilious legal and personal discourse.
This Court has reminded members of the bench that even on the face of boorish behavior from those they deal with, they ought to conduct themselves in a manner befitting gentlemen and high officers of the court.
U.P. law school grads sometimes exhibit a ridiculous grandiosity when they make reference to their alma mater, a probable residue of their having been taught law “in the grand manner”. This refers to a quotation attributed to Justice Oliver Wendell (“not Long John”) Holmes, Jr. etched into the wall facing the entrance to Malcolm Hall which states: “The business of a law school is not sufficiently described when you merely say that it is to teach law or to make lawyers; it is to teach law in the grand manner, and to make great lawyers”. Seeing this almost everyday is bound to make an impression on even the most indifferent law student, which, unfortunately, included me.
All throughout my stay in the college of law, no professor ever bothered to explain what exactly teaching law “in the grand manner” meant. We were left to draw our own conclusions. And so the closest I and my cohorts ever came to having a grand learning experience was when we went to Grand Inihaw at the Quezon City Welcome Rotunda, where education on an entirely different sphere of instruction awaited us.
The decision in Mane vs. Judge Belen will let the air out of fatuous alumni who still believe that old quip about there being only two law schools in the Philippines, U.P. and others.
A good piece on the pecking order of schools by Raul Pangalangan. His conclusion: Look to the man and not to the school.