When a millennial lawyer meets an ICC judge
MANILA, Philippines — In the eyes of the Filipino legal community, Sean James Borja and Raul Pangalangan may be two different points on a plane.
Borja has just graduated from Ateneo Law School in 2018 — as valedictorian, no less — and emerged as the topnotcher in last year’s bar exams.
Pangalangan, meanwhile, is already at the height of his legal career as a Filipino judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.
But when the millennial lawyer met the seasoned legal luminary, their similar notions of excellence could transcend generational gap.
“The real battle in law schools is about the true meaning of the rule of law,” Pangalangan said during the awarding ceremonies on May 18 for the scholars of the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity (FLP) — an organization that aims to perpetuate the core judicial philosophy of retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban.
“One side says that the rule of law is simply the rule of technicality. Let the chips fall where they may. It is as if the rule of law is the disavowal of moral judgment,” he said.
“In contrast to the duty of a judge to be just, there is this constant [moral] battle. I think we might as well confront it in the law schools,” he added.
For Pangalangan, the landscape of the law is changing. In his four years of working at the ICC, he had worked from navigating between individual rights and collective rights to upholding economic, social and cultural rights.
These issues, he said, push lawyers “beyond the narrow limits of technicality (He mused: Was it really effective for the Supreme Court to order the cleanup of Manila Bay?).”
Borja, who feels the need to “choose the long and winding path rather than having to cut corners,” wants to first dismantle the negative notions about his generation.
“People say that we millennials are a self-entitled lot. While there may be a grain of truth to that statement, that is never all we are. We are young minds who like to hope and to dream of better days to come,” he said.
Proud LGBT member
He is also a proud member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, but he said he wanted to do “so much more than the labels” given to him.
For Borja, there’s a golden rule in achieving excellence in the legal profession: Lawyers cannot live in a bubble. Excellence is choosing to engage in things that are happening outside one’s realm of comfort.
“If you ever thought whether you should fight, whether you should bother rallying for a cause, to get back to your office to work on a backlog, or to work for a client, I hope you choose to bother and you choose to care. Never forget that you are part of this world, too,” said the bar topnotcher, addressing a room full of young lawyers and FLP scholars at the Ateneo Law School auditorium.
Two years ago, Panganiban chose Borja to become one of the scholars of FLP — the cream of the crop of his batch.
He received a P200,000 financial support per year from the FLP, funded by the Tan Yan Kee Foundation, until he graduated.
It was that same recognition that he said reminded him not to fall into the “sweet lull of complacency.”
“When we’re too pleased with ourselves, when we think that all our dreams have finally come true, I hope that we take ourselves out of that complacency because there’s so much work to be done still,” he said.
Now Borja wanted to “choose excellence” not only in the confines of the classroom but also in the “more complex real world.”
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