This week’s personal highlight is my receipt last Friday morning of my third admission letter from a university in France–this time from the Université Paris II – Panthéon-Assas. Assas is touted as the top law school in the country and I couldn’t be more excited to have been considered worthy for unconditional admission.
But first, a quick rundown of this week. Monday was midterm election day in the Philippines. I voted in my maternal hometown of Sta. Maria, Bulacan. I voted for opposition and independent candidates for the Senate, for Kabataan Party-List for the House of Representatives, abstained from voting for a district representative, and undervoted for candidates in the local government, largely because I didn’t know most of them. Tuesday, a lot of people (at least in my social circle and my family) went back to school and work disheartened and concerned with the results of the elections, early counts then showing (and as they still do) that the opposition was routed and President Duterte is set to gain supermajorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Today, Filipinos went to the polls for the midterm elections to elect the country’s new set of lawmakers and local government officials.
In particular, this election will see half of the 24-seat Senate filled up with 12 new Senators, and at least 300 new district and party-list representatives who will serve in the House of Representatives. It is widely perceived that majority of President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies will sweep their respective elections. (To be clear, many of these politicians are already entrenched names in the ruling class, who have simply coalesced en masse under the banner of the President because of his enduring popularity. )
I have not felt as strongly in a general election as I have for this year. It even trumps the 2013 midterm elections where I was party-list nominee for the House of Representatives. That year felt like a contestable election, you know, where contending parties had fighting chances to challenge incumbents, and offer alternatives. This year? There is an overwhelming sense of despair because all odds appear to be stacked against any and all opposition to the current administration.
A lot is at stake, I feel. I’ve never seen and heard of so many corrupt officials and nincompoops in government, both appointed and elected. Parang nagsama-sama at nagsisibalikan lahat ng kawatan sa gobyerno. The degree of nepotism, political rent-seeking, patronage and accommodation is disgusting. You see incompetent people being appointed everywhere, their only credential being their participation in the election campaign of the President. The extent of violence against critics is alarming, too. And the disregard for the ideals of human rights and democracy is frightening. Most of all, very little has changed with regard to the economic well-being of millions of Filipinos.
Despite all these, the President and his allies have remained popular among significant segments of the population, such popularity spilling to his endorsed-candidates who are poised to win and dominate the elections today. I do not know what to make of it except that many Filipinos have probably chosen to prioritize their immediate economic needs and the sense ‘stability’ of having a pseudo-authoritarian government in power that gives many a sense of security, and most of all–urgent relief. The dominant campaign rhetoric of the candidates poised to win is the promise of immediate aid, after all. The candidates who appear to be most helpful to the needy and the poor, no matter how corrupt or devoid of democratic values they appear, are poised to win. Many are too destitute and in need of money, food, shelter and jobs, to even think about policy, ideology or democratic freedoms. To be fair, the answer may be more varied and complex than what I make of it right now, but a significant factor in the political decisions made today are grounded on the socio-economic realities majority of Filipinos face.
Notwithstanding the feeling of gloom, I proceeded to the polls with my family today and endured four hours in queue. I needed to register that vote. None of the candidates I voted for may win, but I needed to cast my ballot for them. The results are yet to be known as of writing, but I am preparing for the worst.
I think what makes this election difficult for me to accept is the feeling that I have lost touch with the sentiment of my countrymen. Parang hindi ko na kilala ang bansa ko. I feel that I do not identify anymore with the political choices of the majority. Admittedly, I belong to a minority of Filipinos privileged enough to enjoy more than the basic necessities in life. But doesn’t that situation make me more susceptible to vote for the status quo? Why is it the other way around? Why aren’t people who are most in need of systemic overhaul demanding it, by the ballot or by the millions on the streets, or by the rifle in the countryside? Ah, too many questions at this point. This needs some processing. As a believer in democracy, I am bound to recognize and respect the political choices of the majority as legitimate and valid.
The only glimmer of hope I have at this point is the intensity by which many young Filipinos have seemingly taken up the cause of challenging the status quo. The extent of youth politicization over the past months is overwhelming. By the measure alone by which alternative candidates have swept campus mock polls and the increase in membership of mass organizations and activist formations, I see the prospect of a better future still burning bright for the Philippines. I just pray that the youth don’t give up despite the inevitable results of the elections. We carry on fighting for a better future for ourselves and out country!
I’ve always intended to restart my blog, but couldn’t identify exactly what has been holding me back. I realized recently that it was the very concept of rebuilding that has impeded the effort before it even got going. I’ve always thought that in order to restart this blog, I had to rebuild from where I left off, reconstruct my archive of blog entries and then reconnect so many dots from the last time I published entries regularly almost a decade ago. Such task always felt so overwhelming I never got myself to actually start.
It’s like having to produce and exhibit Avengers: Endgame when everyone has forgotten about all the other prequel Marvel films. I don’t really have the time to explain everything from Iron Man (2008) or Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
I started my “online journal” on October 2000, when I was a twelve year-old high school freshman. That online journal, which I maintained until around 2010, bore witness to my formative years in high school and college, and everything in between. Since I stopped blogging, innumerable changes have happened. I’ve gone through law school, became a lawyer, travelled the world, been through several life-changing moments. I grew up. I don’t know where to begin without having to contextualize blog entries from where I left off. It felt like starting my blog necessarily meant having to reconnect all the dots from 2010 up to the present day. And boy, those are a lot of dots!
Thus, the resolution is just to start without having to think of reconnecting dots past. Let’s start from scratch. A clean slate. Imagine we are meeting for the first time, and you know nothing about me. I’ll simply tell you things about myself as we go along.
So, hello there, I am Victor Villanueva. I am a lawyer from Manila, Philippines. Nice to meet you.
May 4, 2016. Gusto ko iparating ang taos-puso kong pasasalamat sa lahat ng bumati. Hindi ko man kayo mapasalamatan isa-isa, nabasa ko lahat ng mga messages ninyo at masaya ako na bahagi kayo ng kaganapang ‘to.
Congratulations to all the parents who made this happen for all us new lawyers. This achievement is yours. Congratulations and thank you!
‘Di ko alam kung sa Pilipinas lang ganito natin idina-dakila ang pagiging abogado. I have a theory that more than the fact na napakahirap maging abogado sa Pilipinas, malaki ang pagtingin natin sa mga abogado at ganoon na lang kung ipagdiwang ang pagkakapasa sa bar exam dahil sa pangangailangan ng indibidwal, pamilya, at mga grupo na pangalagaan at ipaglaban ang kani-kanilang interes. Perhaps a manifestation of the many contradictions in society, or of its weak institutions that families celebrate having the advantage of having a lawyer to protect their interests. But that is for social scientists to discuss adequately. Othwerise, what are lawyers for, really?
One of the things we were taught in law school that I absolutely hated is the legal maxim “Dura lex sed lex” — “the law may be harsh but it is the law”. This is the favorite legal doctrine of parties who have the law in their advantage. But in a society such as ours, advantage is not determined solely on who is right against who is wrong. It is largely determined by economic and political capital. Laws are not inanimate sets of letters that form themselves out of a sense of justice, they are shaped by social, economic and political forces that exist and prevail at any given time in society.
In my opinion, laws are not supposed to be harsh. Laws are supposed to facilitate justice, not impose harshness. It is no wonder that this doctrine has consistently been used throughout history to justify martial law, slavery, death penalty, oppression. It compels resignation to a prevailing order, para bang, eh yan ang batas wala tayong magagawa. Of course meron tayong magagawa.
In French the word for lawyer and advocate is the same, it is “avocat”. It is likewise the same for the Spanish and the Italians.
A linguistic reminder that as lawyers we are called not just to become passive instruments of the legal system, but active advocates of justice. Justice in its basic sense, which I believe is, or is supposed to be, innate in our collective sense of humanity and goodwill.
With the national and local elections just a few days away, I think this is also an opportune time to remind ourselves that the leaders who we will elect will have the power to shape the laws and policies which will compel our obedience, or perhaps resistance, in the coming years. I say resistance, because we as advocates, we should not be afraid to challenge laws that do not serve justice, especially for those who do not have the advantage of the law and the legal system on their side. I am not advocating for the violation of the law, but is possible and it is our moral obligation challenge political and economic forces that shape and execute unjust laws. Dura lex sed lex is an awful awful legal theory.
That being said, congratulations to the new lawyers and your families. see you not just in court, but in many other places where justice needs to be served!