ATENEO:  PEOPLE'S  PRIEST  STILL  STRONG  AT  75

MANILA, JULY 11, 2007
(STAR) By Patricia Esteves - Fr. Joaquin Bernas, dean emeritus of the Ateneo de Manila law school and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, shows no sign of mellowing at 75, especially when it comes to upholding and defending the Charter.

“I only feel 35,” said Bernas during his 75th birthday celebration Sunday evening at the Ateneo law school in Rockwell, Makati.

Last year, Bernas was busy giving his legal opinion on the controversial Charter Change and the people’s initiative to amend the Constitution.

He admitted that there will always be attempts by some quarters to revise the Constitution through a people’s initiative, but he expressed faith in the Supreme Court and the Filipino people. He believes the people will, at all times, uphold and defend the integrity of the Constitution.

Bernas’ birthday wish for the country is “to have peace and an honest and clean elections for always.”

It is Bernas’ detachment from politics and high credibility as an unbiased and independent legal expert that earned him much admiration and respect from various sectors of society.

He often reminds the people that the purpose of a Constitution is not primarily to promote efficiency.

The success or failure of a government lies in the people running the system and not the form of government. Bernas said that it is easy to write a Constitution but more difficult to make it work.

Fr. Bernas juggles his time between his legal duties and priestly functions. He baptizes babies and officiates at weddings.

To a lot of people, Bernas is father, confidante, uncle, brother and friend.

At the celebration, the whole Bernas clan was there to express their love and support. His students past and present and also his classmates from the Ateneo law Class of 1962 also attended the celebration.

The highlight of the party was the video titled “My Brother, The Priest” prepared by his relatives, which showed photographs of Bernas as a young boy, a novice and a lawyer.

The video also showed testimonials from relatives and recounts the time when Bernas’ father died six months after he entered the seminary.

He had wanted to help his mother care for his 11 other siblings and asked permission to leave the priesthood. But his superiors did not allow him, saying he would just be a burden to his mother.

Bernas is not the only religious in the family; his two sisters, Bernardita and Bernardine, are Benedictine nuns.

Many of his friends, students, and colleagues describe Fr. Bernas as a gentle, down-to-earth and funny priest, always dependable and wise.

They also say Bernas is a man who always stands up for what is right.

Lawyer Aileen Lerma, a long-time family friend, calls Bernas “father.” Her parents and Bernas are long time friends and it was Bernas who baptized Aileen, officiated at her wedding and baptized her two children.

Bernas earned his Bachelor of Arts (1956) in English, Latin and Greek classics and holds a Master of Arts (1957) in Philosophy from Berchmans College. He obtained his law degree from Ateneo law school in 1962 and placed 9th in the bar examinations that same year.

He earned degrees in Licentiate of Sacred Theology from Woodstock College in 1966, Master of Laws and Doctor of Juridicial Science from New York University in 1965 and 1968, respectively.

He served as dean of Ateneo School of Law, president of Ateneo de Manila University from 1984 to 1993, was a member of the Constitutional Commission formed by President Corazon Aquino in 1986, a provincial supervisor of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, and a director of the Philippine Stock Exchange.

He served as amicus curiae (friend of the court) rendering legal advice during court sessions at the Supreme Court.

Bernas was also conferred the position of dean emeritus of the Ateneo school of law when he retired in 2004. He currently teaches Constitutional Law and Public International law to freshmen and sophomores.

He has written several law books and law articles published and widely used by lawyers and law students. His published works are often cited in decisions penned by justices of the Philippine Supreme Court and judges of lower courts.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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