The study of law and the position of the “abogado” or professional lawyer have always been held in very high esteem in all Hispanic-oriented cultures. This may have been the reason for the inclusion of the pre-law courses when Central began the junior college in 1923.
When Central became a four-year college in 1938, students and interested friends of the school began to press for the opening of a College of Law. Finally, on March 18, 1939, the Board of Trustees voted to apply for a permit to offer the first two years of the law course. The first year was to be opened in the school year 1939-1940. Atty. Pablo Oro, who had been one of the leaders in urging this move and in seeking patrons to help develop the law library, was given the responsibility for developing the program. Atty. Pablo Oro, a member of the Philippine Bar, was a graduate of Silliman University and of the University of Manila College of Law.
The prime requisites for a school of law are a library of law books and other legal literature and a faculty of licensed lawyers, well-versed in law and able and willing to share their knowledge in classroom situations. The law library at Central began with the donation, by the Lopez Family, of the 706-volume law library of Don Eugenio Lopez, valued at P 10,000. Doña Rosario Lopez vda. De Santos donated an additional P 1,000 for the purchase of books. Another set of 200 books was given by Don Delfin Mahinay. Additional donations came from Senator Fernando Lopez (who later become Vice-President of the Philippines), and from Atty. Thomas M. Powell, Atty. Edmund Black, and Atty. William Greenbaum, American lawyers who practiced in Iloilo City. By 1941 (the start of the war), the law library at Central had accumulated over 1500 volumes.
A committee of the Board of Trustees was appointed to find a qualified dean. The committee included Estanislao Padilla, chairman; Don Ramon Lopez, Governor Gabriel Hernandez, Dr. Francis Rose, and Atty. Rosario Doromal. Dr. Lorenzo Porras, Don Ramon Lopez, and Dr. Francis Rose were appointed as the committee to raise funds for the new college.
Enrollment was low in the new College, and the Board of Trustees made a motion at its August 7, 1940 meeting to suspend operation of the college until it could operate on its own income. The immediate reaction to this vote was a resolution against it, dated September 27, 1940. This reaction led to the rescinding of the Board of Trustees vote to suspend the program. The College of Law continued operations until war began.
It is sad to record that the precious library, put together after so much effort, was totally destroyed when the campus buildings were burned. Nevertheless, when the war ended, Atty. Pablo Oro began the task of rebuilding it and re-establishing the law classes. A gift of Php 500 from Don Aquiles Laguda made possible the purchase of a set of Philippine Reports. The library thus re-established, classes were re-opened the second semester of the school year 1945-1946. A thousand volumes of law books soon came from the estate of Atty. Thomas W. Powell through the help of Cenon Cervantes, chairman of the Board of Trustees.
In August, 1948, the Board of Trustees approved the application for a permit to offer the third and fourth years of the law course. At the 1951 commencement the first batch of Bachelor of Laws degree graduates of Central were presented: Feliciano Argamaso, Nicolas Baban, Dominador Garin, Emilio Gatanela, Nicolas Grecia, Luzon Gumban, Roque Marañon, Dionisio Nadala, Daniel Osumo, Jose Pablico, and Juan Sornito, most of whom had been strong supporters and enthusiastic workers at CPU, Iloilo Mission Hospital, and or in various churches.
In order to enrich the experiences of the law students and to develop a genuine fellowship among students and faculty, Dean Oro led in the organization, in July, 1948, of the “Order of Kalantiao”, a fraternity of Law students. This is a legal and cultural society seeking to reconcile the judicial as well as the cultural lore of the East and of the West. It is named after the famous lawgiver in ancient Philippine history, Kalantiao, who codified the first laws of the land. The Order of Kalantiao has six councils: Madya-as, fourth year students; Hamtik, third-year students; Irong-irong, second year students; Aklan, first-year students; Lubluban, faculty members; and Kapinangan, honorary members. The fraternity sponsors seminars, debates, and oratorical contests, and social affairs.
The enrollment of women students led to the organization of a sorority called the Court of Urduja, after a native queen, well-known in early Philippine history for her wisdom and leadership. The purpose of the sorority is to train future women lawyers in refinement, usefulness, and leadership. The organization cooperates with the Order of Kalantiao in all activities of the College.
Atty. Oro succeeded in persuading jurists/ lawyers to devote some of their time to the College of Law. In the school year 1952-1953 the following were on the faculty: Fiscal Jose Zambarrano, for Criminal Law; Iloilo City Collector of Customs Eliezer Manikan, for Negotiable Instruments, Commercial Law, and Admiralty Law; Judge Pedro Davila, of the Court of First Instance, for Civil Law and Loan on Property.
In July 1955, the Hon. Robert Simmons, Chief Justice of the Nebraska State Court, visited the campus and lectured to the students. He became very much interested in Dean Oro and the College of Law. Justice Simmons gave generous support to the law library and encouraged his friends and colleagues to do the same.
When Dean Oro retired in 1959, Atty. Casiano Laquihon was appointed executive secretary of the College. Enrollment was at a low ebb but Atty. Casiano Laquihon, through his efficient leadership and with his well-chosen faculty, was able to improve the instructional program and increase the enrollment. President Larsen recommended that he be appointed acting dean. At the February 3, 1961 meeting of the Board his appointment was confirmed. He served in that capacity until he transferred to Manila late in the year. In February 1962, Atty. Tomas Leonidas was appointed executive secretary of the College.
A number of difficulties have been met in the development of the College of Law. The study of law is essentially a graduate course, attracting the ambitious among the employed. Since Central Philippine College is located at the far end from the center of town, it is easier for law students to enroll in the colleges located downtown. Distance also prevents lawyers and judges who may be interested from accepting invitations to teach at CPU. This situation has made it difficult for Central to compete with other colleges of law located near the heart of the city, for students and teachers. Finances are a consequent problem because the college has to charge high fees in order to be able to pay qualified instructors and to build up a proper library.
On December 12, 1963, the Board of Trustees voted to close the College of Law at the end of the School Year 1963-1964 because of financial reasons and marked decrease in enrolment. The members of the Board of Trustees, who were attorneys, led by Dr. Juan Orendain, opposed the closure of the College. The alumni lawyers and others who were interested in the university were of the opinion that the prestige, influence and mission of the university would be harmed by the closure of the College of Law. Finally, the Board of Trustees voted to rescind the action to close the College and to designate Dr. Juan Orendain as Dean of the College of Law.In 1968, Atty. Panfilo Enojas was appointed Dean of the College. He immediately demonstrated the wisdom of his appointment. Enrolment in the College increased by 34.8%.
On September 21, 1972, the late Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law. There was a public perception that the legal profession was a losing proposition, but such notion had no adverse effect on the college’s population.
Through the years, the College of Law has produced top bar passers who now excel in the field of legal practice. Regional Trial Court Judge Nery D. Duremdes was No. 13 in the 1972 Bar Examinations. There were eleven (11) who graduated in SY 1972-1973, three of them became judges – Regional Trial Court Judge Edgardo Catilo, Municipal Trial Court Judges Federico Billones, Jr. and Manuel Sollesta. The members of Class 1976, Ricardo de la Cruz, Bernabe Dusaban, Lino Lozañes, Jordan Reyes, Rolando Vedeja, and Alexis Zerrudo, made a remarkable record in the 1976 bar examinations – a 100% passing percentage. Atty. Rodolfo Cabado who graduated summa cum laude was No. 17 in the 1980 Bar Examinations.
When Dean Enojas retired in 1987, Atty. Juanito Acanto was appointed Officer-In-Charge, acting dean, and later dean of the college in 1993. In 1998, the Board of Trustees appointed Dean Acanto as the university president, and Atty. Zacarias Bedona, Jr. was appointed acting dean. The following year, Atty. Bedona was appointed full-time Dean of the college.
The College of Law presently occupies the Eugenio Lopez Memorial Building formerly the Lopez Library, with air- conditioned classrooms, court room, dean's office library, and Outreach Office.
Atty. Pablo O. Oro
Atty . Panfilo Enojas
Atty. Juanito Acanto
Atty. Zacarias Bedona, Jr.