Florin Hilbay: From Tondo to Yale and beyond

" 'Pwede na' should no longer be acceptable."



The election season has officially begun with the start of the period for filing of Certificates of Candidacies of those intending to run for the May 2019 midterm elections. The first day of the filing was almost uneventful save for a few comedic moments involving candidates who readily sang and danced for the cameras, the filing of COCs of singer Freddie Aguilar (supposedly under PDP-Laban), and a guy who claimed that he was a former PCOO Assistant Secretary’s ex-boyfriend.  

Of the sitting senators, only Senator Koko Pimentel has filed his COC. Interestingly, Pimentel, the President of PDP-Laban, created a problem for Aguilar when he said that the singer is not a candidate of his party because he has not been issued a Certificate of Nomination and Acceptance by the party. The CONA is a vital document released by the political party that nominates a person as a candidate under the party banner. The paper is submitted by the aspiring candidate to the Commission on Elections upon filing of COC. Aguilar submitted a CONA but because of Pimentel’s statement, he may face disqualification if it gets proven that what he submitted is unauthorized by the PDP. 

Other administration-backed candidates are Larry Gadon, infamous for his filing of an impeachment complaint against former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno that led to the latter’s removal from office via a quo warranto petition, and former PNP Chief Bato dela Rosa, whose leadership resulted in the killing of thousands of suspects under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. 

From the opposition side, a relatively unknown and newcomer in politics Samira Guntoc, a Maranao woman leader and activist, also filed her candidacy for the Senate. From what I have been hearing, Guntoc is worth watching out for. 

The Liberal Party (LP), on the other hand, has earlier announced that it is fielding the trio composed of former representative Erin Tañada, current senator Bam Aquino, and the founding Dean of De La Salle University’s College of Law, Chel Diokno as the party’s (first list of) candidates. 

It is obvious that LP is capitalizing on the good political image of the family names of the three.  This is a good tactic considering that people are looking for credible and respectable candidates to go against the administration’s hoodlum-like and abrasive bets. This, however, does not mean that Tañada, Aquino, and Diokno cannot stand on their own merits. The first two have credible track records as politicians and the third as the President of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), an organization of lawyers that handles human rights and social justice cases. 

I will not be surprised if eventually, former senator and losing presidential candidate Mar Roxas joins the three. He fits the bill to a T.

The race to the Senate just got more interesting with the declaration of former Solicitor General Florin T. Hilbay that he will run for the Senate in the coming elections. Like Guntoc, even if Hilbay has held an important political position, he can still be considered an outsider especially on electoral politics for he has never held an elective post. Prior to his being SolGen and outside of the legal circles, his name would not attract attention.

Hilbay, however, has an interesting and inspiring story. He was not born rich. In fact, he comes from very humble beginnings. His parents are ordinary folks and he grew up in Tondo, Manila. He was (and still is) known in Tondo as Pilo. Florin was a very smart boy, and diligent in his studies. He finished his Bachelor of Arts in Economics in the University of Santo Tomas (UST), got his law degree from the University of the Philippines (UP) Law School in Diliman, topped the Bar exams, and received his Masters of Law from the prestigious Yale School of Law. From Tondo to Yale, Hilbay’s academic credentials are quite impressive. Poverty did not deter him from achieving his goals in life. 

He worked at the Office of the Solicitor General before being appointed SolGen himself. It was his stint as SolGen that the public began to know about him. He became a rock star to RH advocates when he valiantly defended the RH Law during the oral arguments at the Supreme Court. 

Moreover, as SolGen, he played an important role in the Philippines’ huge and historic victory over China on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue. 

After his stint as SolGen, Florin returned to the academic world and resumed his teaching. He is a professor at the UP College of Law. He has, however, continued to be politically active by expressing his opinions on controversial issues that include how this administration seems to have become subservient to China on the WPS problems; the war on drugs, human rights and social justice. 

He has also taken cases of victims of political harassment like Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes. 

And now, Pilo, the boy from Tondo, has accepted the challenge by people for him to run for elections. His entry into the race, like the entry of other credible candidates, should raise the bar in terms of standards by which candidates should be measured. The electorate needs to seriously scrutinize those applying for the job of being a public servant. “Pwede na” should no longer be acceptable now. 

I hope people will look closely at what candidates like Florin Hilbay can offer the country. We should look for the best and only choose those who can help the country get out from the rut we are in. Like, from Tondo to Yale, we can make that jump, too. 

Topics: Election 2019 , Larry Gadon , Maria Lourdes Sereno , Freddie Aguilar , Koko Pimentel , Leila de Lima , Antonio Trillanes
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