Teaching in a grand manner

In the entrance lobby of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines (UP Law) there is a wonderful quotation from United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “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.” As I wrote in this column in January 2011, during the centennial celebration of UP Law, every student and alumnus know by heart these words.

In the past few days, with the passage into eternal life of Professors Araceli Baviera and Domingo Disini who taught many generations of UP Law students the rudiments of civil law (in the case of Baviera) and labor law (on the part of Disini), the meaning of Holmes’ words have hit home. Indeed, in this new world where feelings can be shared instantly and collectively, their deaths were received with profound grief as well as a deep sense of gratitude for what they shared to us as teachers. Indeed, the lives of these great professors embody best what teaching law in a grand manner truly means and how to make great lawyers.

Professor Araceli Baviera, born in 1920, taught at UP Law for 58 years. As law student Dana Batnag wrote in a 2009 blog entry entitled “The Little Old Lady at the UP College of Law”, Prof. Baviera did not begin her legal career as a teacher. Instead, she first practiced law after becoming a lawyer, but told Ms. Batnag that the “influence-peddling” that she saw disgusted her. Ms. Batnag quotes Prof. Baviera as recounting: “I said to myself, mahirap mag-aral ng law, tapos magsusuhol ka lang”. She was 35 years old then and she never left the college.

The first time I actually encountered Prof. Baviera’s work was not as a teacher but as an author of the classic textbook on Sales which was assigned to us during second year law by our Special Contracts professor, Prof. Bing Jacinto. I remember being impressed by that red book but the real thing – the experience of being her student in Civil Procedure – was even more intellectually satisfying. She was soft-spoken, but every word (as I shared also with Ms. Batnag in 2009) contained a grain of wisdom. Prof. Baviera’s brilliance also manifested itself in her wit. I sat in front of the class and her comments to our answers were always funny (though never insulting or humiliating). It was also a lot of fun to sit beside her during meetings of the UP Law faculty (which I joined in the 1990s) because of her many side comments.

Brilliance was not the only defining characteristic of Prof. Baviera. Integrity, simplicity and dedication also marked her life as a teacher and law professional. Even after she retired from the university, she continued to teach, coming to UP Law riding the jeep, hardly missing a class, sharp and brilliant to the end.

Brilliance, integrity, simplicity and dedication. These are also the best words to summarize the life of Prof. Domingo Disini. Prof. Domeng, as we fondly called him, was a master of labor law. He knew the intricacies of the Labor Code and taught his students in UP Law (as well as the Ateneo School of Law) with passion for the rule of law and social justice. As his family wonderfully summarized his life, “He aspired to be simple but ended up doing great things for others”.

Prof. Disini did great things for me. As his first students in UP Law, he inspired us to be good students by being rigorous and demanding – and being fair in giving grades. He challenged me always to be true to my ideals; knowing I came from the Ateneo de Manila, he would always remind me that as a lawyer I was supposed to be a man-for-others. He taught me that one can be a good lawyer and teacher while also being a good person – by being kind and gentle to one’s students. As a colleague in the UP Law and Ateneo Law Faculty, he inspired me to believe that the most important work I do was this business of teaching.

In the same speech from which the Malcolm lobby quotation comes from, Justice Holmes says that, “Education, other than self -education, lies mainly in the shaping of men’s interests and aims. If you convince a man that another way of looking at things is more profound, another form of pleasure more subtle than that to which he has been accustomed if you make him really see it the very nature of man is such that he will desire the profounder thought and the subtler joy.” This is exactly what Professors Baviera and Disini did to us. They inspired us to be better than we are. They taught law in a grand manner not only with their brilliance but also more importantly with the example of the decency of their lives. Surely if we become great lawyers, it is, among others, because once we were taught by a Baviera and a Disini and a few others like them. And I thank them for this.

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