Victory lap for bar results

With the release of the bar results last week, the Chair of the Bar Examinations Committee -Supreme Court Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe deserves accolades from the legal community and the public. Last year, this visionary Bar Chair promised that the exams will be “a fair test of the candidate’s aptitude and readiness for actual legal practice”. She delivered on that assisted by  very able bar examiners that helped her frame the questions checked fairly and promptly all the exams.

The Supreme Court must also be congratulated for bringing down the passing mark to 74 from the usual 75. The Court’s rationale is impeccable. As Justice Perlas-Bernabe explained it: “The Court en banc had decided to lower the passing rate from 75 percent to 74 percent in light of among other considerations the discerned need for more younger and technologically adept lawyers to help different front of society as we meet the peculiar challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and transition to the new normal.”

The higher passing rate of 27.36 per cent is higher than the 22.07 % last year and the 25.55 % the year before, but it certainly does not match the 59.06 % in 2016 when Justice Presbitero Velasco was Chair.

Second, there are of course the bar topnotchers and passers to be congratulated. This is a real accomplishment and milestone.

I congratulate University of  Sto Tomas – Legaspi, more familiarly to me as Aquinas University College of Law as my father in law the late Aquilino Bonto used to teach there, for placing two of its candidates – Mae Dianne Azores and Myra Baranda on first and third place. In between the two Bicolanos, is a Maranao law graduate and valedictorian of the University of the East College of Law – Princess Fatima Parahiman. These top three are joined by four other women who made it to the top ten. Three other provincial law schools – Palawan State University, St Louis University in Baguio, and University of St La Salle in Bacolod – had their examinees in the top ten. While graduates of  UST-Manila, Jose Rizal University, San Beda Alabang, and Polytechnic University of the Philippines  (PUP) also placed.

While this year’s bar topnotchers must be lauded,  I still think the practice of listing the top ten passers should be abolished. There is no societal value in such a list and it distorts the priorities of law schools. The issue will go away if the Supreme Court establish a pass-fail system, an idea whose time has come..

The University of the Philippines (UP), Ateneo de Manila, and San Beda University (Mendiola), who dominated the bar exams for decades but not as anymore in the last ten years, does not have to worry.  They are still among the highest nationally in terms of passing rates at more than 80% for all three for the 2019 exams. That is more important than getting many of its graduates in the top 10. That is why my heart goes to those who failed the exams and have been reaching out to my students who did not make it.

Many other law schools also have good passing rates. Ateneo de Davao and Ateneo de Zamboanga have excellent passing rates at 91.7% and 87.5% respectively. Other schools I know also had 70-80% passing rates – PUP, San Carlos, Urios University, and Xavier University among others.

In any case, all law deans and professors must be congratulated for a job well done. I congratulate especially the law deans in the schools where I teach and the deans and professors who are my former and current students.

The 2019 bar outcome is proof of concept that legal talent is now distributed well geographically and socio-economically. This is great for legal education and for access to justice in our country.

It’s not that elite schools have declined but that many of the law schools in Manila and in the regions have improved considerably. I know this because I teach in non-elite and in provincial law schools and teach many of their Deans and Professors through the graduate programs of San Beda University and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

PUP College of Law is a good example of this trend. Founded only in 2001, by 2016 it already ranked first among law schools in getting a 100% passing rate. And for 2019, for the first time one of its graduates  – Mr. Jun Rojas (whom I taught Public International Law) – ranked ninth. After teaching in PUP for four years, under the steady leadership of Dean Jim Festin, I know there will be more PUP upcoming topnotchers.

With the decision by the Supreme Court, with another visionary Bar Chair in charge Justice Marvic Leonen, to have a Cebu venue of the 2020 bar exams which will be rescheduled to sometime in 2021, the performance of provincial law schools will improve even further.  This corrects the blatant social injustice of a Manila-centric bar exams.

I end by congratulating all my former students – around 200 of them p from UP, Ateneo, De La Salle University, Xavier University, PUP, Far Easter University, and Lyceum of the Philippines University who will be taking the lawyer’s oath soon. I am so proud of you!

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