Towards a Just and Humane Society in the DiGi Age

* Remarks delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the Awarding Ceremonies of the Bar Topnotchers and other Bar Exam Passers, Honor Graduates, Scholarship Awardees, Dissertation Writing Contest Winners and Finalists held via Zoom videoconferencing at 10:00 am on June 12, 2020.


Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

At the outset, please permit me to thank Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta and Senior Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe for chairing our Boards of Judges for our Scholarship Program and for our Dissertation Writing Contest, respectively, as well as the other judges who were earlier acknowledged during the program. I also express our gratitude to our generous partners, the Tan Yan Kee Foundation for the Scholarship Program and the Ayala Group for our Dissertation Writing Contest.

Let me also formally congratulate our honorees: the bar exam topnotchers and passers, honor graduates, scholarship awardees, and dissertation writing winners and finalists. The FLP is very proud of all of you for upholding the tradition of excellence and achievements established by your predecessors. These two FLP projects are designed to help you pass, nay top, the bar examinations and – beyond the classroom curriculum and the bar exams – to train you to think, study and write clearly, creatively and critically to meet the demands of our profession and our nation, with emphasis on how the safeguarding of liberty and the nurturing of prosperity could be applied to the various aspects of legal theory and practice.

Doing the Most and the Least
In her commencement address before her graduating class at Harvard University a year ago, Lucila Takjerad of Algeria recalled how her impoverished family survived the hunger and pains of the horrible Algerian civil war that started in December 1991. She said that one hot summer day in 1994 when she was seven years old, her mother – while walking in a public market – learned that the French government allowed certain families to emigrate to France to escape the fighting. All they had to do was to write their names on a list. Her hungry and illiterate mother desperately wanted to avail of the opportunity but could not, because she didn’t know how to write her name. Dejected, she walked away. Fortunately, a man noticed her, ran after her, got her name and scribbled it on the list. Because of that simple gesture of kindness, her family was transported to France a few months later. There, she was given the chance to study and work, and later to become the first woman in her family to graduate from Harvard.

She recalled that Harvard graduates were asked to do their best for the world. Yes, she exclaimed, that that task was noble and worthwhile. But her message was simple and less intimidating; she wanted to spread the gospel of doing little things. The man did not know and still does not know how his simple gesture of writing the name of her mother on the list magically transformed her family. And so, she concluded her much-applauded speech in this wise, “Fellow graduates, of course, do the most you can do: your education and legacy demand it. But also do the least you can do. Because, the least you can do might turn out to be the most significant.”

My Own Poor Beginning
Upon hearing Lucila’s speech on YouTube, I was reminded of my own poor beginning. My family was impoverished also. I had to peddle newspapers and shine shoes when I was in the grade school and high school. I studied hard in college to keep my tuition scholarship. I sold bibles to my professors and textbooks to my classmates for my meals and pocket money. My father, a mere high school graduate and a government employee, died when I was still in prelaw and my unemployed mother, who finished only elementary school, passed away during my senior year in law. I was stranded thereafter because I had no money to pay for my bar review. Then, a kind soul – an older friend during my student leadership days – told me he would pay for my bar review, including books, and a modest monthly stipend, on one condition – that I should land among the Top Ten in the exam. The condition was simple but very stressful to the extent that I was hospitalized during the first Sunday of the bar exams. I nearly quit but my law dean at FEU, Dr. Jovito R. Salonga, would not hear of it and urged me to go on. Fortunately, with God’s grace, I still made it to the sixth place. Alleluia!

My friend, who is now deceased, never knew how his simple gesture of paying for my pre-bar expenses brought me over to the noble legal profession and, eventually, to the highest judicial position in our country. Indeed, my life is full of little twists and turns that have brought me to where I am.

Twists and Turns of Life
Certainly, you too my dear scholars and winners must have been the recipients of similar little things that have twisted and turned your young lives. And I hope the little things you got from the FLP will have a lasting impact on your journey to be the new leaders of what I call the DiGi Age – the digital age of 5G technology and artificial intelligence.

The financial grants given by our donors, the interviews at the inner sanctum of the Supreme Court, the anxiety of being questioned by our board of judges, the midnights you spent writing your dissertations, the in-depth discussions of our judges in passing upon them, and the bits of kindness of our secretariat are really valuable little things that may twist and turn your careers as lawyers and future leaders.

And to push these little things further, I urge you to join and move the FLP Scholars Society. Let it be your way of contributing little things to those who will follow you, to those who will be applying for future scholarships or to those who will be submitting dissertation entries. Please give them your bits of knowledge and wisdom. Tell them your experiences and challenges.

And among you, let the Society be your networking podium to strengthen one another as you answer the call to lead our people. Let it also be your way of giving back, to spread the call for excellence, for integrity and for patriotism. Let it be your common vehicle for riding into the DiGi Age.

Role of Lawyers in the DiGi Age
Many say that the DiGi Age may eliminate lawyers because robots will become instant encyclopedias of law with instant ways of applying them more accurately and objectively than any lawyer or judge. Indeed, this may result in the automatic application of the Austinian formula of facts times law equals decision or FxL=D. This robotic application will uphold the maxim, dura lex, sed lex. However, I dare say the good lawyers bred by liberty and prosperity under the rule of law will not be outdated or outdone by DiGi Age robots because only humans have a heart, only humans have wisdom, only humans can dispense compassionate justice especially when the law is not clear, when the law is inadequate, or when the law is unconscionable. Truly, only lawyers with a heart, with a conscience can dispense compassionate justice in a just and humane society.

In 10 or 20 years, you will be the leaders of the DiGi generation. You will be the super lawyers, the justices and judges, the legislators and cabinet members, even the chief justices and presidents, who will shape our destiny towards a just and humane society that safeguards liberty and nurtures prosperity under the rule of law.

I may no longer be around by that time, but my spirit will be hovering above you, beside you and behind you, smiling and contented, that I have brought you a few little things that have made a vital difference in twisting and turning your lives and careers to build a just and humane society in the DiGi Age. Maraming salamat po.