Please find attached the letter drafted by the Law Student Government Executive Board on the Dress Code imposed by the Law Library. Hard copies are being given to the blocks through your president or representative. If you agree with the statement, please affix your signature. We hope to submit the letter to Prof. Santos as soon as we get feedback from all the blocks, so please help us expedite the process. Thanks!
Prof. Antonio S. Santos
Head Librarian, Espiritu Hall
UP College of Law Library
Last Thursday, the Law Library posted an announcement prohibiting the wearing of sandos and slippers inside the library. This regulation, which was effective immediately after posting, was imposed without prior notice or consultation with the students—not even with the LSG. Apart from this lack of notice, there are also no clear standards to guide the library personnel and the students as to what counts as inappropriate attire (How is a sando defined? How are slippers defined?).
Since the policy was effective immediately, some students (including non-law students) suddenly found themselves being expelled from the library, or being denied entry because of their "inappropriate attire." On Friday, LSG President Jobert Navallo clarified the matter with you. During that meeting, you cited three grounds to justify the regulation, to wit:
1) MC No. 14, which imposes a dress code for government officials and employees;
2) the Ateneo Law Library's dress code;
3) the UP Main Library's dress code (which allegedly imposes a similar prohibition).
We find however, that these rationales are thoroughly insufficient.
The first ground, which is the memorandum relied upon by the Library, is inapplicable to students. MC No. 14 is a memorandum issued in 1991 by the Civil Service Commission Chair to all government officials and employees, and was merely re-copied and re-released in 1997 by the then Vice Chancellor of UP, Mrs. Perla Legaspi, to UP units. By no stretch of the imagination can we say that law students are government officials and employees, and so from the title alone, it is obvious that such memorandum was never meant to apply to students. Inclusio unius est exclusio alterius.
Even assuming that MC No. 14 is applicable to students, why is it being invoked only now, and why the hurried implementation? Surely it cannot be because of any "urgency," because the university memo was issued ten years ago and no corresponding dress code among students was then imposed. The belated adherence by the College of Law library at the very least warranted prior notice to the student body.
The second reason propounded by your good office is that the Ateneo Law Library imposes a dress code. It does not follow, however, that the UP Law Library should impose the same. If there is anything that has been clear in our minds since day one, it is the fact that UP is not Ateneo. UP is a state university; it has, arguably, students from more diverse social and regional backgrounds; and it has no other graduate school that prescribes a dress code (not even its MBA Program).
In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are "persons" under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views. (Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503 , emphasis supplied.)
Law students, in any school, are presumably responsible thinkers. But this should be a natural presumption in a school where the main teaching tool is the Socratic Method. Our professors are here not to define what counts as inappropriate, or to impose a dress code that they believe is appropriate, but to help students realize the correct answer, if there ever is one, in clothing.
Let the students continue to decide for themselves matters that are personal and that have no reasonable relation to their competence in studying the law. Indeed, nobody has ever claimed that UP Law graduates are less likely to act professionally in the field because UP does not impose a dress code the way Ateneo does, or that our lower bar passing rate is attributable to the way we dress.
The final justification is that the UP Main Library has a similar dress code. We find this hard to believe since no official memo has been distributed to the students, given to the USC or published or reported in the Philippine Collegian and, unless the students are apprised of a rule, they cannot reasonably be expected to abide by it.
Assuming however, that such a policy exists, it would still be a non-sequitur. Why should law students be precluded from questioning the Law Library's policy, just because the Main Library has imposed a similar policy? Policies affecting students which are imposed unilaterally and without any consultation should always be subject to attack.
Perhaps what is abnormal in this situation is the fact that the Library has not put forth any substantial interest in regulating the way students dress themselves. In Tinker v. Des Moines, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a student's right to free speech (which includes how he dresses) can only be curtailed if the speech would impinge on other student's rights, and if it would result in a substantial disruption / material interference with school activities. No such harm exists with the wearing of slippers and sando (although we have not seen anyone actually wear sando to school). And assuming it does, the harm must be real, and not merely conjectural, and the regulation should be such as to alleviate the harm in a direct and material way. School uniform policies should only be upheld if "it advances important government interests unrelated to the suppression of free speech, and if it does so in ways that effect as minimal a restriction on students' free expression as possible" (Jacobs v. Clark County School District, United States District Court for the District of Nevada, May 12, 2008).
The fundamental freedom of expression has guaranteed, as the history of our country would attest, that the students of the University of the Philippines, particularly of the College of Law, will always be at the forefront of student activism, and consequently, national development. It is for this reason that we regard it with utmost reverence and jealousy.
We therefore call on the UP Law Library to lift the policy and desist from implementing any dress code without first consulting the student body.
The Executive Board
UP Law Student Government 2008-2009
Michael Jobert I. Navallo
Alessandra Maria Anna Gloria O. Reyes
Bernice C. Mendoza
Janette T. Lim
Aaron Jarveen O. Ho
Public Relations Officer
Sophia Monica V. San Luis
Michael Jobert I. Navallo
President, Law Student Government
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