High tribunal vs UP Law

October 23, 2010
Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 23, 2010

MANILA, Philippines—The 37 faculty members of the University of the Philippines College of Law, including its dean, will not want for legal defenders in case the Supreme Court imposes sanctions for their purported violation of the lawyers’ code of ethics.
UP law dean Marvic Leonen said there had been “overwhelming” support for the group since news broke that the high court ordered them to explain why they issued a scathing statement criticizing Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo and his supposed act of plagiarism and misrepresentation in a court decision involving Filipino wartime “comfort women.”
“We are a little less articulate nowadays on this issue, which is a manifestation that we have gotten our counsels. We are overwhelmed by the offers of support. We have produced many lawyers and they have come to offer to represent us,” Leonen said in a press conference at Malcolm Hall, the College of Law’s building in UP Diliman.
“Being dutiful lawyers, we teach our students that anybody who has himself as a lawyer has a fool for a client. So that is why all of us are getting our own counsels. And we are trying to be the best possible clients for our graduates and colleagues,” Leonen said, eliciting laughter from those present.

‘Relax lang’

The tribunal’s “show cause” order to the 37 law professors has drawn strong criticism from other lawyers, including legislators.
Asked Friday to comment, Supreme Court spokesperson and administrator Jose Midas Marquez said all talk of the show-cause order’s “chilling effect” and expressions of support for the law professors were “premature.”
“Let’s comply with the resolution why we shouldn’t be sanctioned for airing that statement. So relax lang,” he said.
Marquez claimed that the high court had been tolerant and open to criticisms, including from the media, but had not sanctioned anyone.
“But of course, there are limits,” he said. “Hindi naman puwede lahat na lang palalampasin ng korte (The court can’t just let everything pass). All they have to do is explain why they came out with the statement and used the language they used. Apparently, they understand that it is their duty to criticize. So they should put it [in their explanation].”
Apart from Leonen, the 37 law professors now consulting with lawyers include former law deans Froilan Bacungan, Pacifico Agabin, Merlin Magallona and Salvador Carlota.
All 37 had their signatures on the UP law faculty’s statement concluding that Del Castillo had plagiarized the works of three foreign legal luminaries in writing the decision on the Vinuya, et al. v the Executive Secretary, et al. case, and calling on him to resign.

Judicial restraint

Another expression of support for the law professors was aired Friday by Sen. Francis Pangilinan.

In a statement, Pangilinan said it would be better for the tribunal to “move on” and consider the matter closed.

“Judicial restraint will best serve the interest of the Supreme Court,” the senator said. “With all due respect, the Supreme Court should learn to choose its battles and, to my mind, this isn’t one of them.”

Pangilinan cited the dissenting opinion by Associate Justice Lourdes Sereno, who argued that the text of the decision written by Del Castillo “itself reveals the evidence of plagiarism.”

“The position taken by the UP faculty members on the issue finds solid support and is buttressed by the dissenting opinion of Justice Sereno,” Pangilinan said.

“This alone should prove that there is no basis to sanction the UP College of Law faculty members,” he said.

In her dissenting opinion, Sereno warned that the high court ruling on the plagiarism case “undermined the protection of copyrighted work by making available to plagiarists ‘lack of malicious intent’ as a defense …”

Comfort women’s plight

Theodore Te said that most of those who signed the statement, like himself, had in one way or another been involved in the fight for justice of the comfort women whom Japanese soldiers used as sex slaves during World War II.
Te told reporters that the theory presented in the case filed against the government by lawyers Harry Roque and Romel Bagares in behalf of the comfort women led by Luzviminda Vinuya was a “novel idea” developed by UP law professor Diane Desierto when she was a student.
“The idea was that the plight of comfort women is a state responsibility,” Te said.
The women, through Roque and Bagares, want the Philippine government to seek an apology and compensation from the Japanese government.
Desierto was among the law faculty members who, because they are overseas, were unable to sign the statement and just sent their concurrence by e-mail.
She obtained her master’s degree at Yale University and is now a clerk at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Case marginalized

Magallona, an international law expert, said the Supreme Court’s decision on Vinuya, et al. might have also violated the Berne Convention, an international treaty that protects intellectual property rights and that counts the Philippines among the signatories.
Natsy Verceles, a professor at the UP College of Social Work and Community Development, said that amid the ruckus over the plagiarism issue and now the show-cause order on the UP law faculty, the comfort women and their fight for justice had been “marginalized” once again.
“They are dying off one by one. They haven’t gotten justice and now they are just a side story. Let us not forget that there are people waiting for justice,” Verceles said at the press conference. With a report from Christian V. Esguerra
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