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Jonathan Chaplin and H. Dooyeweerd’s Theory of the State

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Those familiar with the political philosopher  Dr. Jonathan Chaplin’s writings on the theme of the State will note that the key concerns found in his first two major works as a scholar dealing with an important component of the corpus of the late Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd’s body of thought are for the most part echoed in his most recent book – specifically in the chapters that dealt with the various issues implicated in Dooyeweerd’s theory of the state. In fact, these, all taken together, consist of at least a third of the book’s main body of 317 pages.

Indeed, the two main questions raised by Chaplin on Dooyeweerd’s theory of the state are either restated or further clarified in Herman Dooyeweerd: Christian Philosopher of State and Civil Society – without doubt, in the words of a noted American scholar of law and religion, “the go-to book on Dooyeweerd for many years to come.”

It is in this book where he foists what is yet his most radical  if not compelling  challenge to the Dooyeweerdian State – his thesis that while the State decidedly has a leading function,  it has no founding function.

I responded  to his critique of Dooyeweerd yesterday during a panel at the opening of the  2nd Kuyper Seminar at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, to which he graciously listened. In part, I said in my paper on The State in International Law: Reformational Insights:

Chaplin argues that if coercion is written into the structural principle, how can it be consistent with its supposed basis in a good creation? Dooyeweerd, he notes, holds that such coercive power has been incorporated into the world order on account of sin; the state thus is an institution of “common” or “preserving grace” established with a soteriological aim of preserving temporal society in its differentiated condition.

Chaplin suggests that there is an incoherence between Dooyeweerd’s notion that pre-fall, the state’s sword function has been incorporated into creational norms from the very beginning and the latter’s contention that the state was instituted post-fall, on account of sin.

Chaplin thinks coercion cannot be consistently built into structural principles since structural principles are conceived as grounded in the original order of creation that was yet unmarred by sin.

This inconsistency could only arise from Dooyeweerd’s misreading of the state’s positive form (the territorial monopoly of coercive power) into its invariant or in his own words, “enduring” structural principle.

So Chaplin asks,  given that the state needs power of many kinds in order to advance public justice, is historical power so evidently more important than the state’s other functions such as the maintenance of territory and the collection of taxes?

He understands that for Dooyeweerd coercive power is indispensable to giving the state its unique identity, to distinguishing it from other institutions in society. But this, according to him, seems a questionable approach, as that it can still be argued that while the state does have a leading function, it does not necessarily imply that this function is “uniquely related to the possession of historical power.”

Still, for Chaplin it is not quite the case that we need to have an historical function to give the state its unique identity. It’s enough that we know it’s purpose is to ensure public justice. After all, while it can be said that the founding function is related to the leading function, but it is also related to other functions of the state; while it is true that coercive power seems to have been a feature of all known states, so has economic or other forms of power. Thus, Chaplin says that Dooyeweerd’s argument that coercive power is unique and so foundational does not compel and the attempt to single out one function as having a privileged link to the leading function seems artificial.  

Thus, he concludes that the state has no founding function.

Following this reformulation, there is a need therefore to transfer the coercive element into the variable side of human positivation. The better account, Chaplin says, is that the state’s coercive power is an historical development developed or positivized in response to sin, but is not part of its typical structure or its inner structural principle.

In this way then, he says, we can look at the state and the UN, or all bodies organized as public legal communities, as having the same typical structure, but with variegated positive forms.

From there it now becomes easy for Chaplin to suggest that based on Dooyeweerd’s notion of the “internal opening process” of societal structures,  the UN can perhaps be identified as an “international ‘state’ at the very early stage;” it is analogous to emerging nation-states prior to their development as an authority over a defined territory enforced by coercion, or an “ ‘immature’ international state” that needs further positivation so as to help realize the “pressing normative historical mission facing humankind in the sphere of public justice.”

This is an advantageous approach, he says, because it is more sensitive to the dynamics of the evolution of structures whose task is to establish public justice and avoids the danger of regarding the nation-state as sacrosanct, historically finalized structure

 The normative peculiarity of the state

…..the apparent contradiction between a good creation and the state’s monopoly of the sword written into its structural principle is Chaplin’s strongest argument for revising Dooyeweerd’s original conception.

Why should the state’s founding function based on a monopoly of coercion be inconsistent with an originally good creation? My argument is that it is good because God has put in place every possible support for human flourishing, whether in their obedience or disobedience. This is a necessary implication of the gift of free will to humanity – the capacity to choose between good and evil.

It also resonates with the idea, at least of human ways of living, of having been endowed with the capacity for good or for evil – the classic Kuyperian sense of the anti-thesis, where each human community or inter-relationship may either be directed towards God or towards some aspect of creation that it has turned into an idol.

Such a capacity cannot but clearly imply a divine anticipation of negative and positive consequences.  In Scripture, when God gave the first humans a choice between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God also laid down what the consequences were of opting for one or the other (Gen. 2:8; 3:1-4) .

This also implies that God, at the very least, knew what the consequences were of human choosing between life and death. Certainly, God’s sovereignty is severely limited by a view that He only conceived of the state after humanity sinned, as an ex post facto imposition.  It can well be argued that God’s sovereignty has seen it best to institute creational ordinances that would address any possible negative consequences of human choosing.

Hence the state is not a divine afterthought; to say that it was instituted as a response to the fall is only to stress the historical nature of its establishment. This is the better way of understanding or re-reading Dooyeweerd’s suggestion that the state has been incorporated into the world-order after the fall.

A new, post-fall, structural principle did not appear and slide without friction into the original order, as Chaplin suggests. Rather, as a principle set in place to response to a contingency, it was activated when the condition for which it was devised arose.  

His proposal seemingly paints divine sovereignty into a rather awkward picture where having been caught unprepared, God finds himself instituting after the fact of human sin the state with a monopoly of sword power to curtail human capacity for abuse. In this way, Chaplin can argue that Dooyeweerd seems to have suggested a situation where new creational ordinance slide seamlessly into the created order after the fact of the fall, despite his own contention that no new such ordinances can arise in history. 

A sensible alternative to Chaplin’s view is that from before human history, from before creation itself, God had already set in place ordinances that would govern the unfolding of the state in whatever context there maybe, giving allowance for the consequences of human freedom.

The founding function of the state in the form that it has now is consistent with a good creation in the sense that even at the point of creation, a good Creator, knowing all the possible consequences of the gift of free will to humanity, has in his sovereign will, set in place creational ordinances adequate to address such consequences.

In a world without sin – a Christian account of the state can perhaps say that all that the state needs is public trust to sustain itself, as Chaplin himself has suggested in another context.

This is just another way of saying that public trust may well be  the structural principle God has designed for a state unveiled in a pre-fall context. The other side of the coin is that the same divine providence has, at the point of creation, established an ordinance – a structural principle – that would apply in the event of human disobedience. Hence we have two sides of the same coin of creation that, in the beginning, was in fact “very good.”

The simultaneous realization of norms as a task of the state

To recall, Chaplin finds to be questionable Dooyeweerd’s view connecting the leading function specifically to the possession of historical power as the state’s founding function. Indeed he wonders why – given that the state needs power of many kinds in order to advance public justice – historical power is so evidently more important than the state’s other functions such as the maintenance of territory and the collection of taxes.

The question, I believe, can be properly answered by a careful analysis of the Dooyeweerd’s theory of modal aspects, in which in the process of disclosure, anticipatory and retrocipatory aspects interact, where the lower aspects serve as substratum to the higher aspects, and where the higher aspects reach back to deepen the workings of the lower aspects.

In the counter-examples given by Chaplin, from the point of view of disclosure, the maintenance of the territory and the collection of taxes are not even possible without the priority of the state being able to establish itself with the exclusive display of sovereign powers within its territory.

The fundamental and definitive nature of the founding function of the state will require the historical opening up of the substratum supporting it  (retrocipatory aspects) as well as the disclosure of the complex of its superstructure — the anticipatory aspects — that contribute to the disclosure and deepening of the meaning of the state’s task as an institution.

Bob Goudzwaard has underscored this as the task of the state to ensure the “simultaneous realization of norms.” Yet it must be stressed that the simultaneous realization of norms is not possible without the undergirding of the state’s historical power.

The reverse of a positive simultaneous realization of norms is a situation where a state experiences a simultaneous breakdown in key functions as seen in several contemporary examples of the so-called “failed states.”; all too often, this does not happen all at once but is a gradual process that eventually leads to a severe stress to the state in many fronts; It takes a complex of factors –and not just the loss of public trust – for the state to fall apart.

The state’s founding function is at the heart of the state-formation project; it is what grants the state its “normative peculiarity” –to borrow a phrase from political philosopher Matthias Risse – or what distinguishes states from other institutions in society.

Risse argues that this normative peculiarity is characterized by an “immediacy” in the state’s coercive function not otherwise displayed by other institutions in the international legal order.  There are two dimensions in which such immediacy is expressed: in law enforcement and in politics, according to Rise.  The first pertains to the fact that “living in a state means living in an environment where enforcement agencies pervasively have such access, and where it is up to internal political processes to regulate what specific shape such access takes and what constraints it is subject to.”

The second deals with the fact that “ it is the state that provides the environment in which individuals’ basic rights are, or fail to be, realized.”

While international organizations may be interested as well in both questions – in the proper enforcement of rules and in the protection and the promotion of the basic rights of citizens and other entities within a state’s territory– at the most basic level, it is the state that provides both the environment and the structures that make these twin concerns possible:

Legal and political immediacy, then, characterize what is peculiar about the state’s coerciveness. Citizenship is membership in an association for which these two features are distinctive, and those two aspects of the immediacy of the relationship between the states and its citizens provide reasons for associative duties restricted to people who share a citizenship.

Questions of ontology aside, the immediacy of the state’s legal and political structures to citizens within its territory  also undercuts  the practicability of Chaplin’s  argument – a necessary implication of his assertion that the state has no founding function – that we may treat the UN as an  immature “international ‘state’ at the very early stage” that needs further positivization so as to help realize the “pressing normative historical mission facing humankind in the sphere of public justice.”

Quite the contrary, the state is a necessary, though not necessarily sufficient, normatively peculiar institution performing such an historical mission.  Stated another way, the task of public justice still rests primarily on the shoulders of the state.

Indeed, as Skillen has noted a long time ago, human rights “are tied in with the very meaning of justice and injustice in states and thus cannot be protected or enhanced in abstraction from actual state and interstate structures.”  In other words, if the very character of the sovereign state is part of the problem, every effort to advance human rights without changing the function and identity of states will lead to failure.


Later over dinner at De Latie, we had a most pleasant conversation, discussing in detail our respective interpretations of the problem of the state.  He said my position echoes in some ways Dr. Jim Skillen‘s response to his theory; having listened to my talk on the connection or the lack of it between the state’s coercive powers and creation, he said he could see it’s plausibility and is in fact convinced by it, adding that it may constitute a “third interpretation” because according to him, Dooyeweerd actually said that the state is a post-fall institution established by God through a special ordinance. On the other hand, my view holds that the state’s sword power was a potentiality in the creation ordinance established by God to respond to human contingency.

He also said he might have used the rather infelicitous phrase “immature state” to describe the UN but maintained his critique of Dooyeweerd’s formulation of the state as if it were a final and fixed structural principle. He still doesn’t see why its historical founding function should be a defining element of the state.  I said that Dooyeweerd’s “transcendental empirical” method actually will show that what international law calls “effectiveness” is a well-established historical fact as far as the formation of states is concerned.

We also talked about Dooyeweerd’s reading of Aquinas and according to him, through Robert Sweetman’s work, he became convinced that Dooyeweerd has gotten Aquinas wrong in some ways.  According to him, it appears that Dooyeweerd, while he read Aquinas, was influenced a great deal by commentaries from the 19th century that carried the dualist line identified with  the Spanish Suarez school. Today, he said, there has been a recovery of Aquinas as a more integral thinker, and cited the works of Jean Porter as an important  influence in the rethinking of Thomism as a movement of thought. “Jim Skilen, however, does not agree with me,” he said with a wink, motioning to the direction of Dr. Skillen, who was seated at the next table with an American  friend of mine, Courtney Kane, who is doing her master’s on Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, also at the Vrije Universiteit.

His attitude, according to him, is to work with Thomists on common grounds. “The opposition to the Christian tradition is very strong,” he said. “I’d rather that I get as much help as I can from people who, while I may disagree with them on other points, share the same  moral convictions as I have.” He noted that in the context of where he is right now– the UK– most evangelicals hardly care about intellectual dialogue with other Christian traditions while among Catholics, the intellectuals read Catholic social teaching from standard social democratic lens. “I often have to tell them that they need to look faithfully and closely at the deep resources found in their own tradition.”

Malaya Lolas tell Supreme Court to adopt South Korean Court decision

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ImageThe Center for International Law (Centerlaw) asked the Supreme Court today to consider an August 30, 2011 decision by the Constitutional Court of Korea on the issue of Korean Comfort Women in resolving the controversial case of Filipino Comfort Women –otherwise known as the Malaya Lolas case – still pending before it.

The Korean case arose from a suit filed by Korean Comfort Women before the South Korean Constitutional Court against their own Minister of Foreign Affairs. In their suit, they questioned the refusal of the government to settle the issue of whether or not there is still liability on the part of the government of Japan for the atrocities committed by its soldiers during World War II against them. The Korean Court granted the Petition of the Comfort Women and ordered that its government settle the issue with the government of Japan.In its decision, the Korean Court stated that blocking the payment of claims is directly related to the “infringement of fundamental dignity and value of human beings”. It further found that possibility of strained relations and problems with diplomatic ties is no excuse as it will be more constructive for both Korea-Japan diplomatic ties and Korea’s national interest to call on the Japanese government to take on its legal responsibility toward the victims.

It would be remembered that on April 28, 2010, the Philippine Supreme Court rendered judgment on the petition before it asking the Court to compel the Philippine government to espouse the claim of Filipina Comfort Women against the government of Japan (Vinuya v. The Hon. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 162230, April 28, 2010).

The suit stemmed from a petition filed in 2004 by 70 members of the Malaya Lolas Organization (Malaya Lolas), who survived the Mapanique, Tarlac siege by the Japanese Imperial Army. In their petition, they charged that were victims of systematic rape and sexual slavery committed by the Japanese, and asked the High Court to compel the government to espouse their claims against Japan.

The Philippine Supreme Court’s decision sparked a massive controversy when significant portions of it were discovered to have been lifted from various sources without proper attribution. In addition to the plagiarism – which is a word for word lifting of pages from the three articles without the proper attribution – it appears that these stolen passages were also twisted to support the court’s erroneous conclusion that the Filipina comfort women of World War Two have no further legal remedies.

All three plagiarized articles by foreign authors –an article published in 2009 in the Yale Law Journal of International Law, a book published by the Cambridge University Press in 2005, and, an article published in 2006 in the Western Reserve Journal of International Law – argue otherwise.

A Motion for Reconsideration and a Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration subsequently filed by the Center on behalf of the Malaya Lolas highlighting the alleged plagiarism and twisting of sources are pending with the Court. The Malaya Lolas, in their Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration said the High Court’s ruling, penned by Justice Mariano Del Castillo, “made it appear that these sources support the assailed judgment’s arguments for dismissing instant petition when, in truth, the plagiarized sources even make a strong case for the petition’s claims.”

Lawyer Romel Bagares, one of the petitioner’s counsels, explained why the Petitioners seek to have the Korean case admitted into the records of the Philippine case:

“Unlike our own Supreme Court, the Korean Court saw that its government’s refusal to settle the issue of liability with regard to the case of the Comfort Women was a violation of its Constitution and violated the Constitutional rights of its Comfort Women. Sadly, our own Supreme Court did not see it the same way in its 2010 decision. We are hoping that the Korean decision will provide necessary guidance to our own Supreme Court and they find wisdom in the reasoning of the Korean Court.”

An ethics investigation called by then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona cleared Justice Del Castillo of wrongdoing. The Committee’s exoneration of Del Castillo was later used as one of the grounds for a petition filed with Congress to impeach the Chief Justice, although the Senate eventually cut short the proceedings and zeroed in only on the question of the Chief Justice’s failure to properly account for his income as required by law. Corona is the first sitting Chief Justice of the High Court to be booted out of office in an impeachment proceeding.

Del Castillo himself was found liable for impeachment by the House Committee on Justice but for lack of time, the case against him could not proceed.

The Supreme Court also sanctioned 37 professors of the UP College of Law after the latter issued an open letter criticizing the High Court for the alleged plagiarism and twisting it committed in the Vinuya case.

It would later turn out that there were more instances of plagiarism in the Vinuya decision not discussed in the pleadings filed by the Malaya Lolas lawyers.Image
Here is the link to the English translation of the decision of the Constitutional Court of Korea

For more background to the plagiarism and twisting charges, click here, here and here.

Photo credits:
South Korean Comfort Women photo from
Malaya Lolas photo from Vmeo

Written by Romel

April 2, 2013 at 7:03 am

A Good Friday Poem

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Good Friday is just around the corner, and our campus-based Alliance congregation, the Christ our Life Fellowship, will be holding a Tenebrae (A Service of Shadows);  for that purpose I found this poem in English by Henry J. Baron, entitled In the Courtyard with Peter, and translated it with the help of a friend into Tagalog, for use as one of the readings for the Tenebrae.        


Sa Patyo kasama ni Pedro

(Salin mula sa Ingles nina Romel Bagares at Agatha Palencia, 3.25.13)

Ako man any naroon noon sa kailaliman ng gabi sa patyo ng Punong Pari

nang sa takot ang mga anghel sa kaitasan ay nagliparan palibot sa trono ng Ama

nang ang mga nakaismid na mga lehiyon ay nag-unahan at nagtulakan sa maagang selebrasyon

nang walang pakundangang umupo si Pedro kasama ang mga guwardiya palibot sa apoy

upang bantayan si Hesus—

Ako man ay naroon

Narinig at nakita ko ang mga karimari-marim, kasuklam-suklam na masasamang taong

nagkubli bilang mga pari, mga nakatatanda, at mga mangangaral ng batas

habang kanilang inabuso ang Diyos na kailanma’y hindi nila kinilala

sapagkat sila’y hindi mga tagasunod Niya

hindi nila narinig ang kanyang pangangaral sa bundok na nagbasbas

sa payak ang kalooban, sa mapagpakumbaba, sa maawain, sa dalisay ang puso

dahil hindi sila ganoon at hindi sila kailanman nagnais maging ganoon

aaminin kong ako ma’y hindi ganoon ngunit palagiang nagnanais maging tagasunod.

Sila’y hindi mga tagasunod Niya

kaya hindi nila kilala ang Anak ng Diyos na ito

O kung ginusto nila

kung nakita nila ang pilay na sumayaw sa tuwa

kung nakita nila ang  luwalhati sa mga mata ng isang taong ipinanganak na bulag

kung nakita nila ang ganda ng bagong balat na nagdabdab sa braso ng isang dating ketongin

kung nakita nilang lumundag  ang espiritu ng isang balo ng muling magkabuhay ang anak na namatay

kung nakita nga nila, tatawagin din kaya nila si Kristo bilang Anak ng Diyos?

Alam ni Pedro, at ako man ay nakakaalam din.

Ngunit si Pedro’y itinatwa ito nang may panunumpa;

Ako rin kaya’y may ginawang ganitong sala, kung kailan mas ligtas at mas madali ang magpanggap?

Tumatangis ang mga angel, habang ang mga diyablo’y nagsasayaw.

Naririnig natin siyang Kabanal-banalan na sinumpang mamatay

dahil sa kung sino Siya

napagmamasdan natin ang pagbaling ng kanyang mukha

ang maruming dura ng mga mapag-alipustang lalaking naghahalo ng kanyang dugo

Ibabaling niya ang kanya mukha at titingin ng tuwid kay Pedro

at sa akin

sa bawat isa sa aming nagtaksil sa aming sinumpaan

at sa kanyang tingin ay walang paghuhusga, sa halip ito ay pag-ibig

pag-ibig na dumudurog sa puso ng nagkasala.

Si Pedro’y  naglakad tungo sa kadiliman at doon ay mapait na nanangis.

At ako man ay nanangis din.


Written by Romel

March 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm

The Great Crash of 2012

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The view from the top

by Romel Regalado Bagares

Davos, Switzerland — I may have missed the World Economic Forum (WEF) by a few weeks but my Filipino hosts assured me I couldn’t have come here at a better time.

For starters, the unusually cold spell that hit all of Switzerland just a week ago — with the mercury hitting as low as -16 centigrade – dissipated earlier than projected.

Then there’s the happy fact that the sun is up; everywhere you look you see people in their skiing best rushing out of cars and buses in a mad race for the snow-bedecked mountains surrounding this resort city.

You know snow is in happy abundance in the Swiss Alps because during the two-hour drive from Zurich to the city, you pass by houses, buildings and factories with roofs layered over with meters-high powder white blankets and for a moment you imagine them to be giant cakes decorated by an unseen hand with so much icing.

You’ve never seen so much snow in your life.

I’ve lived in Amsterdam for a year for graduate school but the winter I encountered there was rather mild — two days of snow and for but a few inches of it that before I could think about taking pictures, it was all gone. Forever.

In late January, European and American policy makers met again at Davos to try to hammer out a plan of action to prevent a looming eurozone crash in the event that the Greece 100 billion euro ($100 billion ) debt debacle make a turn for the worse — with little success, it seemed.

The Swiss, it seems, are largely unperturbed. Their currency is at its strongest, and wages in Switzerland are at their highest. The good economic situation here has attracted droves of nationals from other EU countries seeking escape from the bleak economic prospects in their home countries. Davos itself shows this — hordes of Germans have found employment here and many are seeking Swiss citizenship. Austrians and Portuguese are following suit.

But I’m here because my hosts think it’s the perfect time to introduce me to a fine Swiss contraption of daredeviltry known as the schlittel.

It’s actually the Swiss version of dear old Santa’s sleigh, only that it’s much smaller and there isn’t any Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer to pull you. Instead, you propel the schlittel down the snow-covered slopes using your own weight.

There’s been a revival in interest among the Swiss in this instrument of Swiss ingenuity in the last few years.

I guess that could mean anywhere between the spike in the sale of the contraption and the high probability that more people could get injured as a result of their newly-rediscovered enthusiasm for it: last year, an eight-year-old boy and a 21-year old woman died in separate schlittel crash incidents in Switzerland.

Reports quote the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention to say that around 10,000 people – both children and adults – get injured from sledging per year in this country of about 8 million. That figure is around 1,000 fewer than the entire population of Davos.

Of course, the grim statistics didn’t at all deter me- after all, I only learned about it after the fact.

The unit given for my use is the Davos, a traditional wooden sledge, named after the Swiss resort where the first official sledge race took place in 1883. I understand it remains the most popular model, consistently outselling plastic ones.

The instructions Hector Chio gave me made the whole exercise rather simple. You sit near the rear end of the sledge and then flex your legs towards the front and slightly away from each other. You bend forward and push on against the ground, using your hands.

Off you hurtle down the meandering path that’s nearly three kilometers long. You tilt your right foot ever so slightly to your right to steer the sledge to that direction, your left foot to your left. To stop your advance you stomp both feet on the snow.

After so much huffing and puffing –all to no avail — I had to be pushed forward to get my schlittel moving. So off I went, whooooweeeee…..very nearly ramming into Hector 10 meters down as he was giving instructions to his son Heckie on his own sledge.

No, no, no, no, I’m fine, I told him when he offered help. To assuage my hurt pride, I decided to let the others in our party of 20 men, women and children hurtle on ahead of me so they won’t see me crashing again.

And crash again I did. Well, it’s more like turn turtle I did.

After three more hard falls half-way through the course, I made a quick calculation of my chances at surviving the next crash with little more than a few scratches. I decided that the odds were stacked against me. There was only a thin and short wall of packed snow on my left to serve as a brake in case I veer off the path towards the abrupt drop down one side of the mountain into sure death.

Just before I crashed for the fifth and last time I thought I was making real progress: I had just cleared a 50-meter stretch of the route and was headed for a tight and narrow bend to the left. I rehearsed Hector’s instructions in my mind — bank ever so slightly to your left with an ever so slight tilt of your left foot.

A pose with members of Praise Christian Church-Zurich

Instead, I made an abrupt and wide jerk of my left foot, causing my sledge to make a sharp lurch, front pointed upward. An unseen force pulled the schlittel from under me and I flew and landed on my belly a few meters away with a loud thud.

I lay there for a minute or so to catch my breath. I felt my body ache all over as a cold blanket of chill gripped me. Then I heard snow that had gathered on the leaves of a nearby pine tree slide down. I picked myself up, took off my visor and threw a glance into the distance below at the foot of the mountain. I could see the roofs of houses, inns and hotels covered with a thick blanket of white powder. Behind them loomed yet another mountain all wrapped in blinding white. I smiled at the secure thought that no one had seen me and my schlittel crash hard into the snow.*


This is a slightly edited version of the essay that appeared in my weekly column for The News Today.

Written by Romel

February 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm

translations and treacheries

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Traduttore, traditore. Translator, traitor. But I love to translate poetry written in English into Filipino!  For a poor versifier such as I,  it’s the next best thing to actually writing poetry.   So here’s the most recent produce of my traitorous mind, my translation of Luci Shaw‘s  Advent poem, Made flesh. I’d like to thank my friend — a great poet of a lawyer — Pambie Herrera, who read this at our church’s  Advent Service in Lessons and Carols last night. Ariel Lev Pinzon was  herself a revelation when she read the original poem in English.

Nagkatawang Tao 


na pagtiyapin

ang langit at madilim na lupa

ng  kinang ng mainit na pagpapahayag

ang kanyang nakakapaso’t matalas na liwanag

ay sandaling nawala’t

itinago ng lumbay ng sinapupunan:

ang hinahon ng  malawak Niyang rangya

ang pangkalahatan Niyang biyaya

Tinuping maliit sa maligamgam na anino

ng bahay-bata—

Salitang isinilid sa siyam na buwang katahimikan—

walang hanggang nabakuran sa sinapupunan

hanggang sa susunod na kalakhan—ang Dakila,

matapos  magpasakop sa paghihirap ng isang babae,

Kawawa sa ulilang sahig

Nakatikim ng mapait na lupa.

Ngayon  ako, sa Kanya’y sumusuko

Sa ipit at iyak ng kapanganakan.

Dahil ang walang hangga’y

napiit sa panahon

Siya ang aking bukas na pinto

Sa magpakailanman.

Mula sa kanyang pagkakapiit  mga kalayaan ko’y sumibol


Ako’y bahagi ng katawan Niya,

nalalampasan ko ang katawang ito.

Mula sa kanyang matamis na katahimikan,  bibig ko’y umaawit.

Mula sa kanyang karimlan, ako’y kumikinang

Ang buhay ko, bilang kanya,

pupuslit sa baklad ng kamatayan,

Mga himig ng panahon,

kapit-bisig ang langit,

kausap ang mga tala.



Salin  sa Filipino ni Romel Regalado Bagares  ng orihinal na tula sa Ingles  ni Luci Shaw. 12.4.11

Written by Romel

December 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm

May it please the Court

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For nearly an hour,  I stood and made my case before the gods of Mt. Olympus, my heart in my mouth.  It was my very first time to actually argue before the Philippine Supreme Court — and I was  co-counsel to Prof. Harry Roque in a petition we filed on behalf of  residents of the Province of Palawan in their bid to get a rightful share in the proceeds of the Malampaya oil and gas wells.  Our case rested on the constitutionalization of the international legal regime of the Continental Shelf and the constitutional and statutory grant of fiscal autonomy for local governments.

I barely survived the intense  questioning — for the most part, by  Justices Antonio Carpio and Teresita De Castro. We were given 25 minutes to make our arguments. Prof. Roque, who was first to argue, took 17 minutes to discuss the first three points of our case. I  took care of the last two points in 8 minutes. But the interpellation took much longer. Prof. Roque was grilled for a little more than two hours, and I, for nearly an hour.

When it was all  over, I was simply thankful that I survived the ordeal without throwing up or fainting in shame and terror. It was an unforgettable day for another reason — the oral arguments were held a day after the Maguindanao Massacre.  The very next day, I took the earliest flight to Davao City  to head for Maguindanao  and see how the Center for International Law may assist authorities and families of the victims in the quest for justice.

The photo below was taken after the oral arguments. (From L-R: Me,  Prof.  Roque, Dr. Raul C. Pangalangan and the DFA’s Mr. Henry Bensurto, the latter two being amici curiae in the case).

The same photo introduces the sixth and last installment in the SIX BIG QUESTIONS project of Gideon Strauss, senior fellow of the US-based Center for Public Justice.   In this project,  I join several guest bloggers in his blog in answering, in 250 words or less, six questions that deal with faith, character, vision and personal context.  What contributions am I called to make? And my response is found here. For my fifth post, click here.







Written by Romel

November 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm

On Possibilites and Limitations

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Amsterdam’s  Museum of Modern Art — the Stedelijk Museum — housed Picassos, Warhols and De Koonings (apart from the works of many other modern masters). Which is one of the reasons why for the better part of 2007 towards the end of my graduate studies,  I spent many Sunday afternoons there (at its temporary quarters that is) , to write  my master’s thesis .  There was a restaurant on the 6th floor, if memory serves me right, where one could grab a beer or juice to relax after hours spent in the exhibits. But cash-strapped, I brought for merienda home-made  sandwiches and cheap 1-liter orange juice in tetrapak.

This graduate school memento many pounds ago  prefaces the fifth installment in the SIX BIG QUESTIONS project of Gideon Strauss, senior fellow of the Center for Public Justice.

As a guest blogger, I answer six questions. I’m now on my fifth.  The post answers the question, what possibilities are afforded to me and what constraints are imposed upon me by my time and place?  Click here for my previous post.

Written by Romel

November 24, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Where do I belong?

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Please don’t laugh at the photograph.
That’s really me four years ago,  in a country where regular hair cuts were beyond  the means of a graduate student subsisting on starvation-level scholarship stipend.

And yes, the guy I’m talking to in the photo  is the man himself, Mr. Jose Maria Sison.

I thought this photograph would make an intriguing  introduction to the fourth  installment in the SIX BIG QUESTIONS project initiated by Gideon Strauss, senior fellow of the US-based Center for Public Justice.   Along with  several bloggers, I  reflect on six questions in 250 words or less and post my reflections on his blog.

The fourth question: where do I belong? And my response may be found here.  Click here for the third  installment.

Written by Romel

November 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Who am I?

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It’s not a movie by Jackie Chan (which I love, by the way) but the third installment in the SIX BIG QUESTIONS project. This project was initiated by Gideon Strauss, senior fellow of the US-based Center for Public Justice.   Along with  several bloggers, I  reflect on six questions in 250 words or less and post my reflections on his blog.

Who am I? Here’s my answer. Click here for the previous installment.

Written by Romel

November 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Bagares, balak, beauty

Tagged with , ,

What do I believe?

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This is the second in the  SIX BIG QUESTIONS project initiated by Gideon Strauss, senior fellow of the US-based Center for Public Justice.

This time, I outline what I believe as a person of faith in 250 words or less. Click  here for the link to the first post.

Written by Romel

November 17, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Bagares, balak, beauty

Tagged with , ,

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