Former UP Law dean and international law luminary Merlin Magallona passes on

Written by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

Former UP College of Law Dean Merlin M. Magallona. UP Media and Public Relations Office file photo.

A “Filipino luminary in the field of international law,” “a pillar of the Philippines’ international legal academy,” and “one of the best Supreme Court justices we, unfortunately, did not have,” not to mention “one of the staunchest legal defenders of our country’s territorial sovereignty.”

These are only some of the accolades from colleagues, former students, and friends to Prof. Merlin M. Magallona, University of the Philippines (UP) Professor of International Law and former Dean of the UP College of Law. Dean Magallona passed away on the evening of January 1. He was 87.

He earned his Bachelor of Laws from the UP College of Law. He spent decades teaching international law to generations of UP Law students, who have since become renowned scholars and leading practitioners of international law themselves.

He served as Dean of the UP College of Law from 1995 to 1999, as Associate Dean from 1991 to 1995, and as Director of the UP Law Center’s Institute of International Legal Studies from 2000 to 2001. He was a participant in the Tokyo External Session of The Hague Academy in 1968 and a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University in 1969. In 1994, he was Visiting Research Fellow at the Graduate School of International Development of Nagoya University in 1994.

In 1999, the Judicial and Bar Council nominated Dean Magallona for the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. He was chair of the Department of International and Human Rights Law of the Academic Council of the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) of the Supreme Court. He is also a member of the Panel of Arbitrators of the Permanent Court of Arbitrators.

In 2001, he was appointed an Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, which he served until his resignation in July 2002. He served as a member of the Supreme Court Committee on Legal Education from 1999 to 2003. Twice, he served as counsel for the Republic of the Philippines in the oral arguments before the International Court of Justice. First, he handled the case of Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (Advisory Opinion, 1995), and second, the case Concerning Sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia v. Malaysia), in which the Philippines intervened in 2001.

Dean Magallona was a member of the Expert Group on the Legal Aspects of the New International Economic Order established by the UN Institute on Training and Research in 1992, and also listed as an Expert in Human Rights of the UN Human Rights Commission. From 1999 to 2000, he served as a member of the arbitral tribunal of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, France.

In 2002, he represented the Philippines in the Working Group of the UN Diplomatic Conference on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court in Rome in 1998. He headed the Philippine Delegation to the meeting of the ICC Preparatory Committee in 2002. In 2004, the Supreme Court appointed him as an amicus curie in the controversial Fernando Poe citizenship case. He was part of the organizing committee and the Executive Council of the Asian Society of International Law (AsianSIL) in 2004 and is a member of the International Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and the International Honor Society for the Social Sciences, Pi Gamma Mu.

Dean Magallona was a prolific author of books, papers, and publications on international law. His published book-length works include Globalization and Sovereignty: The Republic in Crisis (2017); Legal Education: The Search for its Strategic Center in Filipino Cultural Development (2016); The Philippines in the International Law of the Sea (2015); Philippine Constitution and International Law (2013); Dictionary of Contemporary International Law (2011); Supreme Court and International Law: Problems and Approaches in International Law (UP Law Center, 2010); Fundamentals of Public International Law (2005); A Primer on the Relation of Philippine Law and International Law (2000); International Issues in Philippine Perspective (1998); A Primer on the Law of the Sea (1997); A Primer on the Law of Treaties (1997); Japan in the New State of World Capitalism: Problems in Law and Development in Philippine-Japanese Relations (1995); and The Dismantling of the Philippine State (1994).

He often served as a resource person for issues such as constitutionality of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. He was renowned for his advocacy in upholding the Philippines’ territorial sovereignty against the incursions of foreign powers such as China.

In the landmark case, Magallona vs. the Executive Secretary 2011, Dean Magallona, Akybayan Party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros, Prof. Harry C. Roque Jr., and UP College of Law students as petitioners, took on then Executive Sec. Eduardo Ermita, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, and other executive officials of the national government questioning the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 9522, or “An Act to Define the Baselines of the Territorial Sea of the Philippines.”

Then Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio penned the unanimous decision in Magallona v. Executive Secretary upholding the amendment to the country’s archipelagic baselines to conform to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). He shared in an opinion article published in Rappler on December 12, 2020.

“This case opened my eyes—that we could defend and preserve our sovereign rights in the WPS through the Rule of Law by questioning before an UNCLOS tribunal the validity of China’s historic claim under its nine-dash line. We had, however, to first put our house in order by bringing our archipelagic baselines into conformity with UNCLOS so that we could go to an UNCLOS tribunal with clean hands.”

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.