Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cosmopolitan Lawyers?

Fourteen years ago, while in my senior year at the law school (USC- Cebu), I submitted a short essay for the law school’s ‘annual’ book, containing photos and thoughts of the graduates. My submission was published, and, for no special reason I thought of sharing it here in this column. Rereading the essay brought back memories of those halcyon days. I also realized not much has changed in my views; in fact, the essay seemed to presage the professional and academic career I would be treading today. For example, it talks about Kiribati, a nation I hardly knew then. Now, one of Kiribati’s islands –Banaba- is the focus of my PhD research relative to the global phenomenon of climate change potentially triggering environmental migrants. The story’s moral would be: pay attention to what you do today as this may point to what you will become hence. Here’s the piece, enjoy:   
Laws and institutions according to Dick’s toasts, speeches and responses are like clocks.  They must be wound up and set to true time. Three years from now, and this is a generous estimate, all the good-looking boys and girls in this album are lawyers in jusi barongs and samsonite portfolios. What will inhabit their minds? Laws for sure. Philippine laws, and perhaps, international law. But would they go beyond international law towards an emerging cosmopolitan or world-embracing law? Would the new lawyers be interested in the legal implications of, say, the legal and supranational collaborations that set to flight the Ariane from Kourou, French Guiana? What about the possibility of having to come up with an Asian parliament in the near future; or, the unspectacular birth of Dominica, Vanuatu, Kiribati and other small island nations? Are these isolated events, or would they be part of a wider web of purpose, a larger scheme of things. Would any one from our class care?
If none among our class ’87 cares, and I hope we are not representative, then we are less perceptive than the would-be historians in History-major class ’87. Historians love to see themselves in a larger setting, a sort of cosmic time-table or clock where mankind’s written history is but a wee second in the turning wheels of evolution. For them tomorrow is a sequel to that giant movie that can be more or less plotted based on moving trends of activity. The ASEAN is more than an association of Asian countries but a stepping stone, a dry run to a much larger confederation.
There was one international gathering held in Manila in 1977 called the Manila World Peace through Law Conference. It was the 8th conference of its kind – the first being in Athens in 1963. These conferences have ‘Demonstration Trials’ where Chief Justices of nations representing diverse governmental systems will hear arguments on not-usually thought of legal subjects as ownership of seabed riches or liability for damages caused by spaceship crashes. The justices are made to hand down decisions. Indeed, such fora of judges and lawyers recognize that gaps do exist in the laws on international cooperation and that they must be filled. The ‘tools’ suggested range from steps towards greater reliance on the International Court of Justice, the enactment of new treaties addressing volatile political issues, to the idealistic ‘adjustment’ of national laws to conform to one global legal framework.
According to Isaac Asimov, the concept of national boundaries will become more and more ridiculous. And it is now ridiculous enough already. What with the worldwide shift to computerization, communication and high-technology forged on a personal level.  These lightning speed gadgets of communication and information respect no boundaries, creating transnational relationships and transactions, as well as multi-state problems. Yet, existing laws are still modelled after a worn out, State-centered paradigm invented in year 1648 at the Treaty of Westphalia! If anything, new paradigms –and institutions- need to be developed, one that’s more inclusive, cosmopolitan and responsive to the supranational nature of the issues addressed to in these times.
The pooling together of trained legal minds such as the conference in Manila is a step in the right direction. It can also signal that the time is ripe for the discordant laws of various countries to be assessed and reconsidered so they may be tuned in with the times. No nation can escape the fact that all are becoming interdependent parts of a single global system. There would be no turning back.
I am wrong then to hint that lawyers do not always bother about the wider applications of law. With the albeit slow awakening of that flick of international patriotism, lawyers including those among Class ’87 of USC Law, may present brilliant showing. If historians plot the past to forecast future trends it is on the lawyer’s shoulder that these trends are concretely marked out and refined.
Key: University of San Carlos, USC Law, Lawyers, Filipino lawyers

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