First Days in Law School

iznartAcross the street, from one of the biggest and busiest wet markets in Iloilo City, at the corner of Iznart and Rizal Streets, is the University of Iloilo College of Law building. It is four stories high. One can stand on the top floor and see the long yet straight Iznart Street. Ledesma Street connects at the left and J.M. Basa Street connects right across, at the right of Iznart, a block away.

That part of the City is called Plazoleta Gay (Plazo-leta-guy) where all public utility jeepneys that ply all the routes in and out of Iloilo City pass by.

Farther down from Plazo, the tip of the new and the old Iloilo Capitol buildings, and that of a hotel could be seen.

A block away from UI, at the left of Iznart Street, across the Central Market, is the Iloilo Grand Hotel. A block away farther to the left is the Robinson’s Mall and next to it is the Super Market.

Super Market. Not the Shoe Mart of Mr. Sy.

The Super Market does not almost sleep. This is the main supply depot of all agricultural produce from the different towns and provinces. Truck loads of agricultural produce arrive at Super Market when the City is almost asleep. It is equivalent to Quiapo or Divisoria of Manila.

As to the Central Market across the University, it is known for the Military, Rotc, Police, etc., gears most of the stalls across the University sell. And as far as suitors are concerned, the flower shops at the entrance of the Market at the corner of Iznart and Rizal Streets, right across the College of Law building. If a rose costs 80 pesos in malls, the same kind of rose costs only about 20 pesos in the flower huts there.

Farther down at the right side of Iznart Street, beside the Central Market is Calle Real, where Jose Rizal is said to have walked during one of his travels when the ship he was boarding stopped-over in Iloilo. I do not want to do an Ambeth Ocampo to verify this story and another story that Calle Real was the first Hong Kong in a sense that vendors laid down and sell their goods on Calle Real even before Hong Kong became famous for the same. For now, let us consider the stories as grapevine.

University of Iloilo has its back at the sea. Across the sea is one mountainous end of the Guimaras Island, where from on top, a white cross could be seen. Pilgrims sacrifice by climbing that mountain to participate in the reenactment of the Crucifixion during the Holy Week. Their sacrifice they trade with God for their wishes.

The University of Iloilo occupies a block equivalent to two blocks (divided by Guanco Street which connects JM Basa and Rizal Streets) across Rizal Street. Next to Central Market across Guanco Street is Gaisano, the first and oldest mall in Iloilo City. Few blocks farther to the right, in line with UI, is the Sta. Maria School. Across the school, in line with Gaisano, is the Social Security System’s office. Still farther is the port of Iloilo. Few blocks at the opposite side across Sta. Maria is the port to and from Guimaras Island.

The University of Iloilo has two gates. The main gate and the one in front of the College of Law. Right next to the gate at the College, on the right, is the chapel where mass is held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 4 pm. On the left is a bench under the stairs leading to the mezzanine.

At first, one is scared to navigate the narrow and sometimes dark alley at the side of the Dean’s Office across the Sacristy at the side of the chapel facing the gate. This alley turns to the right and to the left and exits at the front of the Administration building lined with benches. In front of the Administration building, next to the benches and separated by a fence, is the mini volleyball court, also known as the extra parking lot, in front of the stage where graduation and other important ceremonies are held.

Students, especially those who park their cars inside the campus, choose to suppress their claustrophobia than exit the main gate, walk by Rizal Street to the Law building to reach the Dean’s Office, or the Library next to it, or the stairs leading to the classrooms and vice versa.

The University of Iloilo was founded by the Lopez brothers, Eugenio and Fernando Lopez, as the Iloilo City Colleges in June 1947. On December 17, 1968, the Iloilo City Colleges was granted the University status and thus it became the 32nd university in the Philippines. ( Sometime after that, the College of Law was established.

The College is one of the three colleges in Iloilo City that offers the Bachelors of Law degree. It adheres to the policy of giving every one a chance to become a lawyer. Such policy is carried out to the letter and extends to those who are expelled by other law schools but seek to continue studies in the University of Iloilo College of Law.

I had a lot of friends who were pursuing their law degree at the University of Iloilo Colege of Law, prior to my enrollment five years ago. One of them was the editor-in-chief of my pre-law University (West Visayas State University) paper. Another was my town mate and a fellow Pian (a graduate of St. Pius X Seminary in Roxas City) who was now a lawyer. They claimed that the University of Iloilo College of Law is one tough school for the hard knocks because the school does not have a dress code and it has a special place, Section C, located at the side of the Law building next to the chapel. Furthermore, not only that most of the practicing lawyers in the island of Panay are UI graduates, also UI has a graduate who is among the top five in the bar examinations of his batch, long ago.

Not only could I wear my favorite shirts, if I study in UICL, I could also have a drink at Section C without much hassle. I exit the gate, turn left. About two meters away, another left at the corner and in 50 feet, I can have a bottle or two of beer.

iznart2My favorite shirts refer to a collection of faded shirts my mother would like to use to wipe the tables, chairs and the floor. I did not let go of them because they came from my brother who worked as a manager of a food chain and he wore them during high school. And for some reasons they were more comfortable to wear.

Section C is a series of stalls beside the law building where people can buy break fast, luch, dinner, batchoy, lomi, binakol, miswa, peanuts, junk foods, cigarettes and drinks in the lowest and unimaginable price. Before (5:30) and after (8:30) classes, law professors are there either having snacks, conversations or drinks. There are some students who are absent in class but are present in Section C and vice versa. The same with the professors.

Some suspected they acquired their hepatitis virus or their typhoid bacteria from Section C. Although they were listened to, fewer than few believed them.

The intelligent, and those who believed they were, engaged the professors and fellow students alike in discussions. What the professors found hard to explain in English inside the classrooms, the professors found easier to explain with the help of San Miguel and the inspiration of beautiful and drunk students in Section C. Same with the students.

Section C is a part of the College as much as the classrooms. There are lawyers who would even suggest all classes be held in Section C than in classrooms. They were able to answer bar questions and pass the bar exams, regardless of the number of takes, because of Section C rather than the classrooms.

Unaware yet of these details, my first days in law school were boring.

I would go to school early for the five-thirty class, watch my fellow strangers: the boys silently calculating women’s figure, and the girls eyeing the cutest guy, as we waited for the professors that did not arrive.

When the professors did arrive, they collected class cards. Some would ask the class to introduce himself/herself and explain why law school. Others reminisced their terror professors, how they were shouted at for not answering or reciting an article and asked to go home in the province to plant kamote.

Another would recall how he almost landed in the top ten of the successful bar examinees of his batch had it not for his grades in Remedial and Commercial Law subjects. “If I can only turn back the time,” he would sigh.

The young one’s would assure students that as long as we study, every thing will be ok. And of course, the famous line:  Law is a jealous mistress, and therefore the legal one will soon be discarded in her favor, would not be forgotten.

The first year students soon lose weights, especially those who were persistently late, since they had to run. If not for the new pressures of law school, at least for the four stories they had to climb every afternoon, to reach their classrooms. If they chose however, they could dream about an elevator and ride in one. The only problem was, they would never reach any floors.

The following years, we learned when the school announces classes start on this week, we let that week pass and wait for the next Monday before finally reporting to class. Out of the sixteen-hour weekly schedule, only about two or three hours of that where the professors are present. To obtain a two or three hour absence during the first week isn’t a hard decision to make.

Soon, when the rainy season arrived and the news told of a flooding river at the opposite side of the City in Jaro, we also did not go to school. Or those who are already in school visit the malls or Section C and the likes. In consideration of the students who lived in Jaro and those who passed by the same to go to and from school, the Law School observed an unofficial holiday. That river in Jaro has two bridges serving as one of the three ingresses and egresses of the City.

There was really no compulsion from most teachers to read and study. During exams, a professor adopted the “cheat and let us see who will not pass the bar” policy. He left the classrooms after distributing the questionnaires.

Class recitations revealed the best and worst of students. There were women who dress like super models but deliver ideas like never mind, if at all they had something to deliver. There were also those who dressed like beggars but talked and argued like the present Secretary of State of the United States of America.

Seldom can one find both qualities in a woman not just in the College.

There, the honor students are cheered like heroes. Because, like heroes, they are very few. Some might have been killed along the way.

However, I liked this environment because it forced one to search inside his heart the purpose of enrolling in the Law School. Am I here to waste my time, or am I here to become a lawyer?

Those who wasted their time and those who did not know they wasted their time survived law school by spending more time in Section C, or in similar places, rather than in classrooms or the library, or at home reading law books.

During our graduation ball, a fellow graduate who claimed to represent the student imports from other law schools spoke. He said, had they known that the University of Iloilo College of Law is one law school that actually feels like home, they would not have enrolled in other law schools in the first place.

Nobody disagreed.