$10k Scholarship Finalist

The newspaper headline came out on April 5, 2011. Village chief gunned down, it read. It talked about a man shot multiple times in the face by an unknown gunman passing by on a motorcycle. The victim, known as Ibong or Kapitan around the village, had just attended a flag ceremony and was on his way to join friends for lunch. Police couldn’t figure out the motive of his assassination, they said. No trial was ever held. No killer was caught, or even pursued.

For the past eleven years, I’ve returned to that lonely headline like a pilgrimage. I’ve often dreamed about worlds where it didn’t exist; I’ve fashioned questions as if their invention could change reality. “If I don’t touch those four words, will they disappear? If I tuck them away, will they become untrue?” But nowadays I think that article must defy time, because each drop of letter and curve of syllable grows and doesn’t seem to wither. It sprouts alongside me enduringly, on birthdays and bad days. I age, but it doesn’t.

My grandfather was murdered when I was 15 years old. I’m 26, now.

Right after he’d been shot outside the town hall, the first thing my aunt did was scramble to find a car that could take him to the hospital. Soon after, our family’s worries revolved around arranging the funeral costs. Then, the death rites. Afterwards, the burial. One topic was glaringly absent: justice.

Even in the weeks, and now years, after his assassination, the words trial, law, and justice have never been spoken. Extrajudicial killings happen so regularly here that they’re just another line in the daily newspapers that people no longer read. When someone is killed, no questions are asked. For years, I didn’t either.

When I think of the law, my mind often goes blank because it wasn’t there when my family needed it. When someone asks me what justice for my grandfather looks like, I never know how to answer because the concept itself has never existed in my world. And when I say I want to become a lawyer, the truth is that until a few years ago, I didn’t even know what one looked like. Instead, I knew this: that in 2011 we needed one, but they did not come. It’s 2022 and still no one has appeared, for us or for our village.

Because no one has come, let me return as one instead. The article may still exist, but so do I.

My dream of a legal education is in response to a nightmare: to pursue a justice that my grandfather never received, thus becoming the human rights lawyer that my village never had. The One Lawyer Can Change the World Scholarship would not only transform my world by making my dream a tangible one, but it would also transform my community. In villages like ours where injustice reigns and not a single lawyer exists, even one lawyer could truly change the world.

Growing up, I learned to distrust the legal system because it neither served nor protected my community. But now, I strive to use the law in crafting tangible, sustainable answers to a number of the most pressing questions impacting societies who continue to suffer from an overarching lack of justice. I believe that a legal education will teach me critical skillsets for palpable change that can truly transform the status quo of injustice for communities in need. For me, solving human rights crises is not simply a dream, but a necessity. Thus, my goal is to dedicate a lifetime of service towards tackling crimes such as extrajudicial killings and suppression of free press in impoverished nations.

The opportunity for experiential learning through various clinics and pro bono work available at Penn Carey Law mirror the social justice work that I’ve participated in for a number of years. Such transformative experiences have taught me more about myself and the world around me than any other. I believe that Penn Carey Law would allow me the incredible opportunity to continue such critical work, as well as provide a learning environment that is rigorous, innovative, and forward-looking–one that is unafraid to question the norm and push for transformation.

I’d like to thank my family and my community for raising me. In particular, I’d like to thank my mom, grandmother, and grandfather for teaching me about sacrifice and unyielding love. Everything I do is for you. Mahal na mahal ko kayo.

Winning this scholarship would make my dream of becoming a lawyer a feasible reality, and it would be a huge honor to receive this award. As I wrote in my essay, “my dream of a legal education is in response to a nightmare: to pursue a justice that my grandfather never received, thus becoming the human rights lawyer that my village never had. The One
Lawyer Can Change the World Scholarship would not only transform my world by making my dream a tangible one, but it would also transform my community. In villages like ours where injustice reigns and not a single lawyer exists, even one lawyer could truly change the world.”

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