Speech of Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III
At the UP College of Law Commencement Exercises
University of the Philippines, Quezon City

June 26, 2017

 UP President and UP Law Dean, Danny Concepcion, CHED Chair Licuanan, Congresswoman Ann Hofer and the other Members of the UP Board of Regents, Chancellor Michael Tan, University Secretary Roberto Lara, the Deans of the other colleges, Members of the Faculty, Members of UP Law Graduating Class of 2017, UP Alumni, my own batch mates and classmates, members of the UP Family, parents and family of our graduates as well as my own parents and family, fellow Filipinos, ladies and gentlemen, a very good and wonderful afternoon to all of you.

I consider it already a great honor for me to be invited to speak before the UP Law Graduating Batch of 2017. But, it is an even greater honor for me to be conferred by our beloved University with the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.

This event makes me, my dear law graduates, your “ka-batch”.

This occasion also gives me a singular opportunity, not only to congratulate you, our dear graduates, but also to expound on the trials and tribulations that you all had to pass through, to get at this glorious point in your lives.

I know that you had to read cases until your eyes bled.

You chose to go to school instead of having dates with your SOs.

You stayed up late at night, sometimes till the morning light, just to avoid a bad recit. As “wise” students say: readings bago feelings, or even, no BF para OPF.

For you to take part in this event today, I know you have sacrificed so much.

Let us give thanks to those who made this day possible for you to savor.

Ika nga ng ating pambansang bayani na si Dr. Jose Rizal: "Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan."

Your parents and family have invested a lot in you. They have shed blood, sweat, and tears for this day to come. They have waited so long for this day to come.

This day, then, is also their achievement. I’m sure their happiness exceeds yours. Please look at your parents and family and thank them for their love, support, generosity, and sacrifices.

Then, let us do the same our eminent professors and our other college officials.

Let us all applaud and thank them. For these are the people on whose shoulders your generation now stands, which enables you to look even beyond the limits of the horizon that they could see in their lifetimes.

My parents, family, and friends are also here. I am sure they are proud and happy too for the honoris causa degree conferred upon me this afternoon. Maraming salamat po Tatay Nene and Nanay Bing, sa aking pamilya at mga mahal na kaibigan na nandito, para sa suporta na binibigay ninyo sa akin hindi lamang ngayon kundi sa mahabang panahon na.

Hindi po ako makakarating dito sa sitwasyong ito kung hindi dahil sa inyong walang hangganang suporta at pagmamahal.

For some time, I wondered why you chose me as your commencement speaker. Did you choose me because you want to hear my advice on how to top the Bar Exam? Or how to be the “great lawyer” that our law school expects us to be?

Whatever be the reason, I decided to give you my advice on both.

“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.” This quote is carved at the entrance of Malcolm Hall at our UP College of Law.

The quote is a challenge to both our UP College of Law and its graduates. The college must teach law in the grand manner, but, in the end, only the graduates themselves can successfully face up to the challenge by becoming great lawyers.

Today marks the time when our UP College of Law officially declares that it is done with its part of teaching law to you in the grand manner.

Today is the beginning of your part to meet the challenge out of the campus of our University and become the great lawyers our UP law school education had trained you to be.

If you become great lawyers, then, obviously, you will make your college proud. But prouder still, if in the process, you serve the well-being of our people.

But how do we know if you have attained the distinction of becoming the “great lawyer” our College of Law expects of its graduates?

Individually, you have different dreams and different reasons why you went into law in the first place.

Some dream of striking it rich in the legal profession. Others dream of winning a landmark case and forever be remembered in SCRA. Still others dream of becoming politicians riding on their UP Law diplomas. And some want to be the voice of the voiceless, the defender of the defenseless, and the liberator of the oppressed. Who then will the UP College of Law consider to be a great lawyer?

I submit that one of the major criteria for our law graduates to be qualified as great lawyers requires that we all have to remember that as UP Law graduates, the Filipino People, through the State, have invested in us. Our farmers and fisher folk, even the jeepney drivers, waiters, and security guards have contributed to your UP Law education.

You are what we call, “Mga Iskolar ng Bayan”.

Hence, individually, as an “Iskolar ng Bayan”, you cannot pursue just any dream you can think of. Here I differ with our Dean. Swabe lang po ang pagkasabi niya, but in my opinion, you are expected to repay the Filipino People’s generosity and support by aligning your work as a lawyer and your life as a citizen of this Republic towards the goals and aspirations of the Filipino People.

And the Filipino People’s aspiration is “to build a just and humane society”.

I say we become the great lawyers that our college of law wants us to be when we contribute to the building of a just and humane Philippine society.

Unfortunately, I guess we all know that our society today is far from being a just and humane society.

Thus, I guess that the first step to solve a problem like the one we are facing in our country today, or any problem for that matter, is to recognize that it exists.

And since we are devotees to the law profession, we cannot but be concerned with our Justice System.

Sadly, we have to admit that our system of justice has a lot of flaws.

People often experience what I call a double-whammy: very long cases and, at the end of the long process, a wrong decision.

Due process, which used to be defined as “a day in court”, has become “a decade in court”. This is my favorite “law joke”, that is, if you can call something which is true, a joke.

According to the 2015 Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project (WJP), the delay in resolving criminal cases and the duration of civil cases are the most significant or serious problems of the civil and criminal justice in the Philippines.

The same study places civil and criminal justice in the Philippines as the worst aspects of the Rule of Law in the country - even worse than corruption in government.

Naturally, if the flawed Justice System continues to obtain in this country, it would lessen our people’s respect for lawyers.

You will be born as lawyers into a world where lawyers are more reviled than admired. Reviled for the perception that their knowledge of the law is being used to further injustice and to enrich themselves even as they may also be admired for their knowledge of the law.

Let me, then, add that justice is denied either through lengthy delays or the outright sale of decisions. Because of this, the law is no longer seen as a majestic tool for justice, but as a deplorable tool for the powerful to abuse the powerless.

This, then, I suggest, is your primordial challenge: To become a great lawyer, you must be a part of the comprehensive reform of our flawed Justice System.

Together, we must restore the faith of our people in our Justice System and the Rule of Law.

And please, do not be a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution.

When you practice your profession never allow yourself to be used as a bribe-giver. Reject the reasoning that since the other side is doing it, then you should also be doing it in order to level the playing field. That is simply a palusot to do an illegal act and violate our professional ethics in order to get what one wants with the least amount of effort and inconvenience. Always remember, the end does not justify the means.

Just be faithful to the Lawyer’s Oath. Do no falsehood, do not promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, nor delay any man for money or malice.

Win your cases on the basis of the merits of your case and on no other reason.

Believe me, only a merit-based Justice System achieves Justice!

The road to becoming a truly great lawyer is filled with huge obstacles such as the money, influence, and power of the privileged sector of our society.

But, I urge you to never give up.

From experience, I can tell you that in this country, it is very difficult to do the right thing. There are too many hurdles along the way, too many ill-motivated people conspiring to frustrate you.

In 2007 when I first ran as Senator, I was cheated. Well-meaning friends told me to forget it and simply prepare for the next scheduled election for senators because pursuing an election protest in this country is too taxing, too expensive, and too difficult to win especially when I was then an opposition candidate and, worse, had no money. However, I worried for the future of democracy in our beloved country.

In previous cases, election cheating was done on a “per precinct basis”. Because no one got punished, the cheating graduated to a “per municipality basis”.

In my case, in 2007, election cheating had already reached the provincial level. I told myself, if I let this pass and not confront this evil called electoral fraud, then who knows what form and where the level of cheating will be in future elections. It would surely engulf the regional level, and eventually to the national level, and like a tsunami, devastate our entire electoral process.

Hence, I decided to act and to vigorously protest, expose, and confront this particular evil. In spite of the odds and the difficulties, the election referee, the Comelec, was, then, biased against me, and the Tribunal which was to sit in judgment in my case was dominated by the allies of my adversary, I persisted and persevered. Because that was the right thing to do.

Four years and two months later, I won my protest. I was left with only one year and ten months of the senatorial term that I contested.

The struggle was even longer than the term I won. But I had no regrets, because to fight against election fraud, to fight for justice, was the right thing to do!

I am a product of the UP College of Law! I am expected to do the right thing. Thus, I did what I had to do.

Here I quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Hence, I suggest that for you to know what to do in a given situation, you should come up with a vision in life, your “moral compass”, or what I call “guiding principles”.

I can tell you in all honesty that these guiding principles have guided me in making decisions in my life.

When I became President of my Rotary Club, I came up with my club’s guiding principles. When I became President of PDP LABAN, I came up with my party’s vision for a Philippine society.

And let me assure all and sundry that I became President of the Senate, not on the basis of good looks, but on the basis of a common agenda I came up with, which we call the 11-point Majority Agenda.

And this I must share with you, that as a lawyer and a victim of injustice myself, the common thread in all of the guiding principles I have come up with is Justice.

I am obsessed with Justice. I want to be Just and Fair with everybody and I want Justice to be available to everyone.

My struggle in the fight against election fraud led me to coin the slogan “Pag Nasa Tama Ka, Never Give Up!” You will surely find this slogan handy and useful as a psychological tool in your career as a lawyer, for surely you would be encountering scenarios which would tempt you to simply give up and abandon your principles in life.

I must confess that early in my law studies I reached a point where I wanted to quit law school. There was this Supreme Court decision which unsettled and confused me because it was too illogical and too obviously wrong.

I am referring to the case of People vs. Borinaga, G. R. No. 33463, a 1930 case. Here, the accused, a Filipino, tried to stab the complainant, an American, in the back but only hit the chair the American was seated on. The force of the impact threw the American to the floor but left him totally uninjured. The Supreme Court convicted the accused of frustrated murder.

My mathematics background made it very difficult for me to understand and accept the decision given the clear definition in the Penal Code of what constituted the frustrated stage – “it is frustrated when the offender performs all the acts of execution which would produce the felony as a consequence but which, nevertheless, do not produce it by reason of causes independent of the will of the perpetrator”.

As a mathematician, I felt that I would not be comfortable working in a system which was too subjective and, hence, too unpredictable.

But since I entered law school in order to understand the Philippine legal system, understand why someone was able to abuse and misuse the Law during Martial Law (and ordered the arrest of my father for four times), and also to be able to contribute to the education of our People about their Rights, I decided to continue with my law studies.

I think that it is good that I decided to finish law school. For with the blessings of the Almighty, I ended up what I am today.

Finally, and without your asking for it, may I give you some unsolicited advice on how you may not only pass, but even top the Bar Exam.

In my view, the successful taking of the Bar Exam all boils down to “confidence”.

Be confident when you take the exam. But, you can only feel confident if you prepared for it.

And to be prepared for the Bar, you must devise a system. A system for review and a system for answering the questions.

You must also know your strengths and weaknesses in the various subjects.

Divide the time available to you in such a way that you enhance your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses. Once you feel that you have eliminated your weaknesses, then, you can feel confident.

In answering the questions, always go direct to the point. Make sure that your direct answer to the question is always mentioned twice: at the beginning of your answer and at the end.

Review well. Be thorough. Give it your all. Believe that you will succeed in your very first try.

I know you will all succeed in the Bar Exam because your college of law has prepared you well.

My dear graduates of our beloved law school, you are now about to enter the real world which, as I indicated earlier, is flawed.

Your UP Law diploma will soon become a license to practice our beloved and noble profession of law.

Please always keep in mind that you are not licensed to kill. You are not licensed to oppress. You are not licensed to be unfair.

Your license is to change our world for the better, fix the flaws, and solve the legal problems that beset our country and people.

So, my dear members of the UP College of Law Class 2017, to be the great lawyer expected of you by our law school, be a part of the solution, not of the problem.

Love your country and your fellow man. Not money.

Be honest. Do not bribe.

Always act in good faith. Do not resort to delay.

Rely on the merits of your case. Do not lobby.

Be courageous. Be open to outside-of-the-box solutions to our age-old problems. Embrace “Change”, even structural change like Federalism for example. Do not be a defender of the unfair and flawed status quo.

Let us all be obsessed with Justice and work to achieve our People’s aspiration of living in a just and humane Philippine society.

Also, remember to always “use your KOKOte” in determining what is good for our country.

In closing, I urge the UP College of Law Class of 2017 to aspire to become great lawyers in our country and to help build a Philippine society which is JUST and FAIR, which SAVES and SHARES, which is SCIENTIFIC and OBJECTIVE, which is PEACEFUL and DEMOCRATIC, which is EDUCATED and HEALTHY, and which is, most of all, HAPPY and FREE, with overflowing LOVE OF GOD AND COUNTRY.

Maraming salamat po and congratulations to all of you!