Not by chance

This was my column on the date indicated above.

They said she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. By being so, she might lose both her legs. Another law student may lose a leg and an arm. These consequences are too painful to be attributed mainly to chance. The bomb that exploded at Taft Avenue last Sunday during “festivities” to mark the end of the Bar examinations cannot be a random act. It happened because some people have created the ecosytem that breeds such acts; and sadly, in a profession that is supposed to be about upholding the law.

No less that the Chief Justice Renato Corona condemned the perpetrators calling the crime “a senseless act of cowardice.” He then ordered the Supreme Court Security forces, the Manila Police Department, and the National Bureau of Investigation to solve the crime. I salute the Chief Justice’s swift condemnation and his mandate to various authorities to work towards a speedy resolution of the incident. I understand why Corona is riled up—the bar exams is under the supervision of the Supreme Court, after all. There are those who worry that the Chief Justice didn’t react with similar vehemence on other crime incidents—many of them more brazen and more atrocious. I will choose to see Corona’s swift condemnation and call for immediate action as an expression of concern for the value of human lives rather than merely as a form of indignation for the perceived affront on the law profession and the community of lawyers and law students of which he is part of.

I empathize with the victims of the explosion at Taft Avenue last Sunday. Because of what happened, the lives of two promising individuals have been altered significantly. A number of others suffered as well. I feel for them. However, I refuse to attribute what happened to chance. It wasn’t. I hate to say this, but something violent like what happened last Sunday was bound to happen at the hoopla they call the “bar ops.” What has been happening at Taft Avenue on the four Sundays when the bar examinations are held there every year was bound to produce something senseless like the bomb explosion last Sunday.

All the ingredients for trouble have always been there, year in and year out. First, alcohol—lots and lots of alcohol. I used to live near the area and I have noted that the guys start drinking as early as 4 in the morning when they set up their booths. The drinking never really stops all day long as classmates, schoolmates, fratmates, and kith and kin of the bar examinees begin their vigil outside La Salle. The point of all that vigil is dubious because I don’t see how having a group of people sitting around drinking beer would increase a bar examinee’s chances of passing the examinations.

Second, the intense competition between and among law schools that officially find expression in the way the schools make their presence known in the venue during the bar examinations. The schools don’t only compete for locations along Taft Avenue, they also compete for attention with banners, gimmicks, etc. Some schools and organizations even rent out whole restaurants for the purpose!

Third, the presence of rival fraternities. As we all know, some law school fraternities happen to have a history of tragic incidents. Quite a number have lost their lives for the sake of brotherhood.

All these potent elements are brought to a dangerous boil by the generally celebratory and festive mood, which inevitably surfaces a misplaced sense of pride bordering on braggadocio. There is taunting, heckling, one-upmanship.

I actually have been writing about all misplaced hoopla in my blog since 2005. What follows is an entry I made in my blog in Sept. 25, 2005, slightly edited for clarity.

* * *

I got down from the LRT Station on Vito Cruz Avenue last Sunday to witness an orgy right smack on Taft Avenue. No, it wasn’t the sexual type, although it very well could have been, or should have been. There were wet bodies all right. There were gyrating people on makeshift stages. There were drums and ati-atihan dancers. And there were people, lots and lots of people all jostling for space on that tiny strip of road half of which was already crammed with cars. I was told an Oblation Run (where stark raving naked men make utter fools of themselves and their inadequacies) was even scheduled.

The right side of Taft Avenue, from Vito Cruz to Quirino Avenue, was transformed into a parking area while the other side was the site of the circus (pardon the mixed metaphors—I really could not find one word to describe all that hoopla). Every once in a while, some groups would break into cheers and scream slogans, thrust their fists into the air and beat their chests —somehow reminiscent of gorillas staking their territories. And maybe they really were, I mean stalking their territories on that narrow road.

The bar examinees were walking out of La Salle, site of the bar exams, and were being “greeted” by their frats, schoolmates, parents, lovers, etc, with bouquets of roses, balloons, champagne, drizzles of water, beer, dancing, chanting, etc. There was food on the sidewalk. There were streamers professing support to their bar examinees (there were streamers for specific individual bar examinees too!), streamers bragging about bar records (100 percent passing rate again! Ten topnotchers in x years!). There was hugging and jumping up and down.

What the heck was that all about? As I snaked my way out of the orgy to get home to my place on Leon Guinto, I had to restrain myself many times from shouting “what the heck are you doing?!”

To begin with, what is so special about the bar exams- say, from the medical board exams or the CPA board exams—that makes it merit that kind of attention? What is so special about being a lawyer in this country where justice is hard to come by and most of the problems are caused by lawyers anyway?

Okay, okay, I am not exactly a fan of lawyers, but don’t get me wrong—I don’t hate lawyers; they may be up there on the food chain as predators, but to my mind, it is just another profession.

On the last day of the bar examinations, with the results a good five months away, the examinees were already being welcomed into the fold with hoopla, booze, and lots and lots of self-serving posturing. It was one big fraternity of bullies out there claiming a major thoroughfare for themselves, spilling beer on the sidewalk and shouting themselves hoarse with silly slogans about loyalty and solidarity.


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