Leonen’s Bar Exams 2020

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Kudos to Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, next year’s Bar Exams Chair, for publicly declaring, in the Legal Education Summit held last week at Manila Hotel, that he shall propose a shift to the Pass/Fail Bar Exam system in 2020’s Bar Exams.

This is by no means a guarantee since he is yet to defend this proposal before the SC en banc. Though it is high time that we realize a drastic change in the conduct of the Bar Exams of our country.

Together with his proposed shift to Pass/Fail, Justice Leonen also proposed for the computerization of the exams to allow the holding of satellite test centers so examinees will no longer fly to Manila, and for the SC to upload all Bar Exam questions and answers for the past 40 years on its website.

I am grinning to my ears! Justice Leonen might be my favorite Justice after all if ever he pulls this off.

I have written about this twice before in this space: “Pass/Fail Bar Exams” (01/04/19) and “More on Bar Exam Reform” (01/11/19). To clarify, this idea is from CJ Lucas Bersamin himself who pitched this idea in one his first public speeches as Chief Justice. Not a single Justice took the cudgels of this until Justice Leonen seven months later, or three months shy of the retirement of CJ Bersamin this November.

Of course, we must not ignore the efforts of this year’s Bar Exam Chair, Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe who, in the same Legal Education Summit, announced that this year’s Bar Exams shall be fair and reasonable, without any surprise questions designed to knock off the examinee off the chair.

This year, we shall revert to the Two Examiner Policy, which I am personally not in favor of, as I wrote also before here, in “Two Examiner Policy” (02/27/19) for reasons that my Bar Exam in 2009 was the first test subject of this policy to make the checking faster.

We ended up having a lengthy exam that took just as long to check. In fact, ours took six months, from September (the exam month at that time) until March.

But I am not pessimistic about Justice Bernabe’s Bar Exams — I am confident she has the whip to crack to ensure the examiners finish the checking on time.

The common question I get on why the Bar Exams has to be revised: What is the problem with the Bar Exams right now? Are you again suggesting that the results make it worth revising? Absolutely not. Let us not just focus on the results here.

The Philippine Bar Exams format has not changed seemingly since the dawn of time except for some facial revisions. It is still a handwritten exam taken in Metro Manila. Compare this with how the practice of law has evolved, and continues to evolve, as we go along. Now we have more start-up law firms competing nearly on equal grounds with the big law firms.

Arbitration is utilized more often for its expediency. The law practice is more international similar to how businesses have become more global or regional, depending on the breadth of the market. Most of this can be attributed to technology, which has been embraced by law practitioners in their daily lives. Unfortunately, this is not applicable with the administration and conduct of the Philippine Bar Exams.

As I have said before, the Pass/Fail format will remove inequality and discrimination among the Bar-passers with focus placed solely on the results, not on the personalities of the topnotchers. I must admit, it will be awkward for the Bar Exam to have no announcement on topnotchers. This can be a reflection of Filipino culture and society as a whole as manifested on how we vote our politicians — everything is personality-based, not on platform or principle.

Justice Leonen may be the catalyst we need. We know his penchant with technology as the most active, or, more accurately, the only Supreme Court Justice on Twitter. My fondness of Justice Leonen grew with how I better understood Insurance Law after reading his case, The Insular Assurance Co., Ltd. v. The Heirs of Alvarez (G.R. 207526, 3 October 2018). I am hoping for best!

To conclude, let me congratulate my fraternity brod in the Fraternal Order of Utopia, Ateneo Law — Justice Rodil Zalameda, former City Prosecutor of Mandaluyong City, then appointed to the Court of Appeals, now with SC. An excellent addition to the High Court!

Email: darren.dejesus@gmail.com or tweet: @darrendejesus.

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