It is always a mystery how a person can touch you so much in only a short span of time.
The First Meeting
I will always remember the first time you walked into the front door of Room 403. It was a Tuesday. It was my first day in law school and I already heard that our Constitutional Law professor is a tough one. You were wearing a blue cowl-necked blouse, black straight skirt, black close shoes, and no make-up. Simple. You walked briskly from the door to the platform, placed your keys (car keys, I guess) on the professor’s table, and said, “Some of you are standing, some of you are sitting and talking to each other.” Guilty, I slowly stood like my classmates but you tossed the stack of class cards to a chair at the front (some of which got scattered on the floor), told us to take our seats, get our class cards and instructed us to fill them up. We dutifully picked the cards up and each of us filled his or her own card, as instructed. You then placed a copy of the outline for the semester on the table, instructed us to photocopy it, told us that we will discuss the cases listed for week 1, and left, taking our class cards with you.
We were silent when the door closed after you. If someone was there to get a photograph of us, I’m sure we all had the same stunned reaction on our faces. After about five seconds, we started asking one another why you seemed so mad that not all of us were standing when you arrived. Almost all of us had the same answer – we thought you were also a student, not a professor. You did not even introduce yourself to us. I am still wondering if you really forgot to or if you just wanted us to speculate if the name on the course outline was yours.
Torture Tuesdays = Fulfilling Tuesdays
I must admit, during that semester, Tuesday sounds like torture to me. One would not dare come into Atty. Labastilla’s Constitutional Law class unprepared. It would be like your life is at stake if you do that. She made it a point that we learn the provisions and the principles by ourselves and boy, she had a way of knowing whether we burned the midnight candle reading the cases or not.
When in her class, you would feel like you were in a courtroom. Your classmates were the members of the public (you would not mind your classmates because they are busy studying the next case while you are reciting). Atty. Labastilla was the judge and also the prosecutor. You were the accused and you are also the counsel of your own self.
Every discussion was as rigorous as you can imagine. When she asked you a question, you should answer immediately and your answer should have basis. I remember when a classmate just answered one of her questions without giving the legal basis. It was as if the wrath of Hera came down to Room 403.
But when you were able to answer her questions, expect to receive the highest of praise from her. She gave credit to students who helped her make the discussions go smoothly. She knew how to encourage a student to do more. She would really try to bring out the best in you. She would ask critical questions and expect you to give your best argument. She would motivate you to think out of the box, to see things in a different point of view, to view the facts at a macro-level kind of thinking. She taught us to learn the Constitution by heart.
You, Atty. Labastilla, were the modern female Socrates.
From a class down to four students
We were more than ten in the class when the semester started. I guess we were around 15 students in that Constitutional Law class. After every meeting, students were dropping the subject. Yes, it was that difficult to get enough courage to face her every meeting.
Midterm examinations came and there were only four of us left to take the exams – I, Bam, MJ, and Wax. She said, “Wow, my class is like a Matira ang Matibay show.”
The Last Class Discussion
Remember when you called me to recite the last case for the semester? I had the most terrible cold virus that week and I croaked when I opened my mouth to say something. It was embarrassing. Instead of making fun of me, you looked into my eyes (oh, how I long to see those eyes again!) and told me calmly, “It’s okay, just a few more minutes and we are out of here.” That moment, I saw a different Atty. Labastilla. That moment, she was not the tough woman that I know but a tender, caring one. In those eyes I saw a comforting kindness. That moment, I saw the maternal side of her.
I wish I did not open that message. I wish I did not get the sad news. I wish it was just a prank, that the news of your passing is not true. I was dumbfounded.
No, this is just a mistake, I told myself. I needed confirmation. I checked her sister’s Facebook account and that was when the sad truth slapped me.
Trying to find the words to say goodbye
Among the many things I like about you was your use of nicknames in addressing your students. No other professor will call me Che in class again, I guess.
I can’t describe the feeling of knowing that no one is on the other end to answer my emailed questions.
I still cannot believe that you are now gone. You were one of the best professors that I had. You know what? I was looking forward to enrolling in your class this coming semester. It would be another torture but I do not care if my heart fall out of my rib cage during recitations. It is all worth it.
Atty. Labastilla, I just want you to know that it was a pleasure meeting you. It was a great honor to be one of your students. You left a huge hole in my heart. I hope you are happy wherever you are now. Rest in peace, Ma’am.