As early as when we were frosh, we were told of his legend. “You have been warned”, so our upperclassmen would say. His reputation as a renowned scholar precedes him; so does the failure rate in his classes and the mountains of readings for his students. We have heard of his strictness, his eye for excellence, and because of this, we frosh were terrified thinking we cannot escape him for one of our major subjects.
Naturally, we did not care yet because we were frosh. Fast forward to the first term of our final year, with smiles abundant, when we greeted our major subjects enthusiastically, waiting outside the classroom waiting for our professor to arrive.
Then he arrives with his stroller and asks, “Is this EUROFOR?”
We mustered as much confidence as we could. “Yes.” We enter the room.
Many dropped his class, while a few daredevils remained. A few months on, and he became my thesis mentor and professor for another major subject.
Much has been said about his brilliance and stringency. Now, Dr. Robles entertains an interview and talks about Europe, politics and hugs he has received from euphoric passers of his class.
TLS: Why did the EU become your expertise?
Dr. Robles: I lived in Europe at a time when the first direct elections to the European Parliament were held. You cannot help but be impressed with the manifestations and achievements of the EU. So, when I came back here to the Philippines, my knowledge of the European Union became my comparative advantage. I think I am the only full-time specialist of the European Union in the Philippines, meaning I am the only one that exclusively does research on relations between the EU and the ASEAN. I also learned International Law in France and Spain; in France, all the readings and classes were in French.
I also attended The Hague Academy of International Law, and I was put in the French section. All my classmates were lawyers. I was the only one who wasn’t a lawyer. In the European system, if you study International Relations, you also study a lot of International Law. At the end of the course, we were to come up with a paper, and my paper was published in the Polish yearbook of International Law.
TLS: For you, which state has the most admirable political system and why?
Dr. Robles: Rather than saying which state it is, I’d rather say what makes the most admirable states similar: It’s a strong party system. That is an institution we really lack. If we do not have strong political parties, then our government would continue encountering problems.
TLS: What theory do you adhere to the most and why?
Dr. Robles: When I was an undergraduate, I was influenced by the work of Robert Cox. He bridges the dichotomy between economics and politics. He also bridges the gap between the national and international. Most political scientists take the state for granted and are not particularly concerned with the political and economic system whereas Cox studied the political and economic system in order to understand how states interact with other states. So by bridging the gap between economics and politics, he was also able to bridge the gap between the national and international. He also bridges the gap between history and theory. Cox also formulated a theory that takes into account history. That is hard to do and that is what I admire about his work.
TLS: What are your thoughts on the upcoming ASEAN integration?
Dr. Robles: ASEAN integration is a work in progress. The ASEAN is less legalistic than the EU so it would take a while, but our problem is that Filipinos are not really concerned about Southeast Asian integration. One possible reason for this is geography. We are separated from Singapore, Malaysia, etc. since we are an archipelago. Also, our economic ties with other ASEAN states are not very intense while other ASEAN states have very strong economic ties among themselves.
TLS: Why two doctorates?
Dr. Robles: This may sound strange but at the time when I was in Europe, it was a requirement for French and German scholars to have two doctorates to be a full professor, so probably I was influenced by that.
TLS: How does it feel when you know that students intentionally drop your class when they find out you are the professor?
Dr. Robles: It is a pity that some students have this attitude. I spend a lot of time preparing syllabi and assigning readings that are assigned in the US, the UK and Europe. Beyond that, I am concerned with the defeatist attitude of the students. If you are defeatist, then you end up being defeated. Lasallians will be among the economic and political leaders of our country and we would need leaders who would confront challenges rather than circumventing them. If they cannot even survive my course, how can they face the Chinese and Singaporean diplomats?
TLS: Do you believe that your methods of pressuring students to be better really work?
Dr. Robles: I treat them as adults and the rules are laid out from the first day. Many things that I want my students to do are what their high school teachers want them to do: take notes on their readings, come to class, and do the readings twice. I don’t think the standards are too high. They simply take lightly the advice I give them.
TLS: Why do you set such a high standard for your students?
Dr. Robles: If I expect certain things from students, I also do things for them that other professors do not do. I organize review sessions, give the essay questions 10 days before the exam and give the sentence outline with the thesis statement. I allow students to bring their drafts during the exam day and the short-answer examination is held on another day. These things are intended to help reduce the stress of the students. If students haven’t been following my advice from the beginning of the term, then they would panic before the exam that is why they don’t do well in the exams. I’ve taught in France, Spain, the US, Laos, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia so I’ve had different kinds of students thus the standards don’t seem too high.
TLS: What makes you feel good about being a teacher?
Dr. Robles: I’m very satisfied when I learn that students have improved their skills. Teaching isn’t simply teaching them facts and figures. We should help them to learn how to learn. If we improve their skills, they will continue learning on their own and in a way, they would end up contributing to our society.
TLS: What does it feel like when you hear students rejoice that they passed your subject?
Dr. Robles: I actually had a student who passed a course and during grade consultation, he embraced me, lifted me and turned around in the room. It seemed like he was dancing with me. I kid you not! I feel flattered but what would make me really happy is that they have not only gained knowledge but they have improved their skills.
TLS: What’s next for Dr. Robles?
Dr. Robles: Faculty members who have retired still have the option of teaching courses in La Salle so I would welcome this opportunity. Since 2008 I have also been regularly lecturing at the Asia-Europe Institute of the University of Malaya so I hope that would also continue. I hope to continue doing research and expanding my research agenda. I think I can also expand my research to include South America, but that is just an idea.