The magic of UP


I just returned from the United States where the University of the Philippines College of Law moot team had, in the words of Marnie Tonson of GMA News, a “magical” finish.

The team consists of Christopher Louis Ocampo, Michelle Go, Danilo Corpus, Neil Nucup, and Margarita Lim. It also has Cuayo Juico as its manager, and Atty. Maricel Seno as my assistant coach.

The UP team finished third in the world’s biggest and most prestigious moot court competition, the Jessup Cup.  This year’s competition drew as participants an unprecedented 137 teams from all over the world, from an original 600 schools that competed in the different national and regional rounds held worldwide. While the UP Law team yielded in the semi- final round to the Russian team from the Moscow State University, the same team that would later beat Columbia University to emerge as this year’s champion,  the UP feat was nonetheless sweet if only because the stories of those who constituted the team  tell the world what a UP education is all about.

Each member of the team represents a section of UP’s student body. It is this kind of a student body, not just financial resources, that will ensure the preeminence of the National University in the years to come.

Two members of the team, Chris and Neil, are children of overseas Filipino workers: a mariner and a Rome-based housekeeper, respectively. They are portraits of the many other young Filipinos who have become a sociological reality in a country with a diaspora of at least 14 million. Their story has become all too familiar: they grew up with one parent and have had to content themselves with the occasional phone calls from the other parent laboring  abroad to finance their education in this country.

A third member, of the team, “DS”, is a portrait of a young Filipino who had the option to reside in the United States —his parents had provided him with the coveted “green card.” Nonetheless, he opted to stay because he “could not see a future outside of the Philippines.

Michelle Go, the cerebral heavy weight in the group and perhaps, in the entire competition, risked the title of being the class valedictorian because of the many hours she devoted preparing for the Jessup Cup. While we all hope that she will still graduate on top of her class, “Mitch” claims that the Jessup experience of having to argue issues relevant to the world today—the use of force to prevent humanitarian disasters and remedies to victims of war crimes —has enriched her education far beyond any  title to being class valedictorian.

Margie, on the other hand, is a child of a Filipino professional who once worked as an expatriate in the Middle East. She is a portrait of one who finished her first degree at the Ateneo but opted to do her law in UP to be  “great lawyer”, to quote from the words of the great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes etched in stone in Malcolm Hall.

This is of course not the best showing for the UP Law team at the Jessup cup. In 1995, the UP Law team with Undersecretary Chito Gascon was the first Filipino team to emerge as world champion at the Jessup. This feat was followed by an Ateneo team that emerged as champion in 2004, the same year when UP Law’s Diane Desierto, Neil Silva, and Ruben Acebedo emerged as co-champions with Cambridge University in the equally prestigious Jean Pictet International Humanitarian Law Competition held in France.

In 2005, the UP Law team made history in the Red Cross  IHL Moot Competition in Hong Kong when both its Applicant team with Dr. Celia Torres-Villanueva and now Assistant Secretary William Varias; and its Respondent team with Mark Rabe and Marlon Marquez -landed first and second, respectively, with an all-UP team slugging it out in the final round. In 2006, my first time ever to coach the Philippine team at Jessup, Abraham Acosta, Mark Perrete, Charles Allaine Veloso, and Mark Rabe landed as quarterfinalists . Previously, in 1989, the UP Law Team with former PCGG Commissioner Ruben Carranza , soon to be Ambassador King Sorreta, with legal eagles Leni Villareal and Evalyn Ursua, also emerged as semi-finalist in the Jessup.

But this is not just about a record of winning moot competitions. It’s about being poor or middle class -getting a top-notch education at UP paid for by Filipino taxpayers, and emerging world-class. This is the UP story.

This is why a UP victory is always sweeter. This is why the students who competed in Washington DC this year sang “UP Naming Mahal” before every match: because UP is beloved not only because it is a revered institution; more importantly, it is, for all its graduates, the stuff that dreams are made of, and the story of magical beginnings and finishes.