The Supreme Court (SC) under Chief Justice (CJ) Lucas Bersamin was off to a rousing start on the imposition of reforms in the Philippine Bar exams. Law practitioners, law students and court watchers, including this writer, were all anxious if CJ Bersamin was bold enough to immediately implement his drastic proposals for the Bar exams to be in a “Pass or Fail” format and whether topnotchers will be revealed at all. These served as talking points in the legal community and the debate served as an opportunity for us to explore different what-ifs in a profession used to being traditional and sticking with the status quo. The prospect of change in the administration of the country’s most grueling exam piqued the senses and curiosity of those within and outside the legal industry.
“Justice Bernabe is absolutely correct in noting the continued interest of the public in entering the legal profession, with the continued rise of lawyers in prominent positions in the Philippines.
All this went down the drain when the High Court announced it will revert back to the two-examiner policy used previously in 2009 and 2010. Effectively, the SC doubled-down on the current protracted system of the Bar exams — the exact same system critiqued by CJ Bersamin — by getting twice the number of examiners, making the tests potentially doubly longer and increasing the fees to be paid by the examiner. After all the build-up, we just ended up with the same old exam, but on steroids.
As stated in the SC’s BM 1161, or the resolution approving the said change, Bar chairperson Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, in her letter dated 11 January 2019, recommended the re-adoption of the two-examiner policy, citing the need to promote operational efficiency in light of the notable increase of admitted candidates in recent years.
Justice Bernabe is absolutely correct in noting the continued interest of the public in entering the legal profession, with the continued rise of lawyers in prominent positions in the Philippines. More and more college graduates enter law schools all over the country and the more established law schools open up new sections just to accommodate more law students (only for them to trim by the fourth year).
However, I beg to differ with regard how the SC reacted to this notable trend. By way of analogy, let’s use a tollgate bottleneck at an expressway: Every Holy Week in the Philippines, a certain expressway experiences the worst traffic at its tollgate just because of the volume of vehicles. To counter this, the expressway operator puts up extra toll cashiers, around double the original number, just to allow more cars to enter. This obviously is a stopgap measure, but it has been going on for years now and traffic remains the same. More forward-minded people would rather come up with a solution using technology to ease the traffic, such as convincing motorists to install the more efficient RFID for electronic toll collection to make the flow of traffic more seamless. A better long-term solution is the construction of more toll exits so that vehicles have more ways to avoid the bottlenecks.
The same applies with the Philippine Bar exams. We all know that after the tests in November, it takes six months to check, tabulate, verify and release the results altogether. It is just a process that we learned to live with. Law firms and government offices now are used to hiring what we call “underbars” — a term that exists only in the Philippines — these are individuals who just took the Bar but are waiting for their fate in the Bar exams and are thus willing to accept a smaller paycheck.
We could have utilized our own versions of RFID in the Bar exams by allowing the use of laptops for those who are more efficient in typing. We could have opened up new toll exits by putting up satellite Bar exam test centers in the Visayas and Mindanao. And once we cut the six months waiting time to three months, then we can try having two Bar exams per year just like how they do it in the United States.
In any case, the writing’s now on the wall and we have no choice but to face the music. This year’s Bar candidates have to be ready for a potentially longer exam and hope that the results would come out earlier.
Forgive me. I am just sounding off, since I was part of the 2009 Bar exams where the two-examiner rule was first implemented. It was quite difficult for us since we did find our exam to be quite long, coupled with the onslaught of typhoon “Ondoy” right on the fourth Sunday, causing its postponement to a fifth Sunday. With God’s mercy, I passed this exam by the skin of my teeth, though my good friend Transportation Undersecretary Reiner Yebra didn’t break a sweat since he placed first in our Bar exam. And for the record, the two-examiner rule in 2009 did not shorten the waiting period at all — it even got delayed further.
My tip for this year’s Bar examinees year is to prepare extra, because you will have to deal with two different mindsets in each subject. To illustrate, in Political Law, one examiner may be an expert in Election Law, while the other in International Law, so these are two very specialized categories under a single subject. The best thing to do, of course, is to study hard and to pray for strength. As for the candidates of the following years, let us hope some change, friendly to the examinees, be implemented for the sake (and survival) of our legal profession that appears to be still stuck in the baby boomer era.