obituary

PH international law legend Merlin Magallona dies

Lian Buan
PH international law legend Merlin Magallona dies

Dean Merlin Magallona dies at 87.

Photo from UP College of Law

A mentor to students who became leading Filipino lawyers, Dean Merlin Magallona is remembered as 'one of the best Supreme Court justices we did not have'

Filipino lawyer Merlin Magallona, considered a luminary of international law, has died at the age of 87, the University of the Philippines (UP) announced on Sunday, January 2.

Magallona died on Saturday according to UP. Magallona was a former dean of the UP College of Law.

Tributes poured from the Philippine legal sector on Sunday, remembering Magallona as a legal legend who had taught generations of Filipino lawyers both inside and outside UP’s revered Malcolm Hall.

“He was the most bewildering and at the same time entertaining professor we ever had,” said former supreme court spokesperson and human rights lawyer Ted Te.

Retired International Criminal Court (ICC) judge Raul Pangalangan said Magallona was “a mentor and teacher to many international law scholars in the Philippines” and that his “intellectual influence will live on through his students and his writings.”

Remarkable contribution

Magallona contributed to many of the Philippines’ international law milestones, including representing the country at the United Nations Diplomatic Conference on the establishment of the ICC.

Ambassador Eduardo Malaya credits Magallona for making leaps in the preservation of Philippine rights in parts of North Borneo (Sabah). Magallona served as an an Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs from 2001 to 2002.

Magallona is also remembered for taking a principled stand against US military exercises in the Philippines post 9/11, a thorny issue in the Arroyo government back then. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo backed the deployment of American troops to the Philippines, while then-Vice President Teofisto Guingona – a concurrent foreign affairs secretary – opposed it.

Malaya said it was Magallona who backed Guingona in fighting for independent foreign policy. Guingona and Magallona resigned from the DFA in July 2002, a move seen as a protest to Arroyo then.

“Our country is fortunate to have had the insights of our honoree on many crossroad issues,” said Malaya in a 2018 testimonial toast for Magallona.

Magallona is the title case of the oft-cited Magallona vs Executive Secretary, where the former dean took on the Arroyo government for passing RA 9522, which adjusted the country’s archipelagic baselines. They lost that petition.

The ponente of that case, former justice and staunch China critic Antonio Carpio, said the Magallona petition “opened my eyes – that we could defend and preserve our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea through the Rule of Law by questioning before an UNCLOS tribunal the validity of China’s historic claim under its nine-dash line.”

“Dean Merlin Magallona’s legacy lives on in his former students, colleagues, and fellow advocates for nationalistic international law, who continue the fight to protect and preserve Philippine sovereignty in the global arena,” said the university.

‘One of the best SC justices we did not have’

Magallona is “one of the best Supreme Court Justices we did not have,” said his former student Luie Guia, former commissioner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

He was nominated for the Supreme Court but did not get to sit on the bench. Through the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA), Magallona helped the Supreme Court by training judges in international and human rights law.

“He was a colorful man, profoundly insightful but also deeply personal and relational,” said Te, and added “the forest is barer at the moment because a great tree has fallen.”

Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen, himself a former UP Law Dean and Magallona’s student, said of his professor: “You have shaped many of us. Thank you and we carry on with your legacy.” – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.