The 2008 Philippine Bar Exams End Today: Is It Still Necessary ?

Updated April 2 : Check the list of 2008 Philippine Bar Exams Results.

Today is the 4th Sunday of the bar exams and for the record-breaking 6,533 examinees, this marks the culmination of all their efforts throughout law school. Each examinee harbors in his or her heart the burning wish to be among the 20% or so who will make it or roughly 1 out of 5. While the arduous trek is done, the takers are in the unenviable position of not knowing whether they have arrived at their longed-for destination. The 2008 Philippine Bar Exam results will not be released until another 6-7 months and the agony of waiting is oftentimes more painful and distressing than knowing the news outright, whether it be good or bad.

I read that the present crop is exceptionally resilient, there having been no drop-outs from among the bar takers during the entire four weeks. This includes an 81-year old man taking the bar for the first time.

This is the modern-day Philippine equivalent of the imperial examinations in China. The Confucian classics stressed that education is the basis of good government and this inspired the rise of a scholar-mandarin class, whose members were chosen through rigorous examinations lasting days. Raul Pangalangan explains the possible roots of our captivation with the bar exams:

The Filipino fascination with the bar exams can be understood as part of the cultural fixation, especially in our part of Asia, for competitive and highly secret examinations. I was in Shanghai last week, and the slide show contained a photograph of the ancient examination rooms for the aspiring mandarins to serve the imperial bureaucracy. The confidentiality of the exams was such that, in order to ensure absolute isolation for the examinee and the integrity of the questions, the examinees would live for the three days of the examination inside a small cabin, bringing along their food, water and waste bucket. It was said that if an examinee died, they would just throw his body over the fence rather than sully the integrity of the mandarinate process by letting strangers into the area.

Those exams produced a new elite based not on noble birth but on noble virtue, and, I venture, that is what the bar exams represent for the Filipino. Its entire design embodies this meritocratic ideal: The exams are blind-graded, the examiner does not know whose paper he is grading, their identities (examiners and examinees alike) are revealed only at the end of process and by authority of the Supreme Court.

But the scholars, after having been admitted into the powerful club of the mandarinate, wanted only to preserve its privileges and exclusivity. What was intended to be a meritocracy soon became a self-perpetuating and oppressive bureaucracy. This so-called enlightened and learned group betrayed true Confucian ideals and became legalistic and hidebound. And notoriously corrupt. The decadence of the system contributed in no small way to the many injustices which led to the collapse of Chinese dynasties, until in 1905 the imperial examinations were abandoned altogether.

Which brings me to my point. While the legal profession is in no danger of morphing into a perverted mandarinate, many opinions have been aired as to the desirability or even necessity of the bar exams. No less than former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, himself a bar topnotcher, has asked whether the outdated bar exams are really necessary.

Instead of relying on the bar tests as the measure of a lawyer’s worth, is it not better to concentrate on the upgrading of law schools?

True, there are many lawyers who did not place in the exams; nonetheless, they performed quite well in the real world. In fact, there are some initial bar flunkers who singularly succeeded later on. The favorite example is the late Sen. Claro M. Recto who failed on his first attempt but became a brilliant practitioner and exemplary public servant.

True also, bar exams are not required in some countries. In Spain, for instance, a law graduate is deemed ready to practice the profession without need to pass any new hurdle. In the United States, the bar tests are given quite perfunctorily on a state-to-state basis. No big deal.

C.J. Panganiban has long championed reforms in the process of admission to the bar, and bewails the non-convening of the Legal Education Board (LEB). Created by Republic Act 7662 on Dec. 23, 1993, the LEB is the agency authorized to “uplift the standards of legal education.” The good justice convincingly argues that the country and the legal profession would be better served if the focus on the bar exams is instead shifted to upgrading the quality of legal education, including nationwide qualifying examinations before one is even admitted to law school.

Sadly however, the LEB has not been operationalized; neither has its chair and members been appointed and its budget allocated. Until these are done by the President of the Philippines, reforms in legal education will remain in limbo.

Former S.C. Justice and our favorite constitutional law professor Vicente V. Mendoza, who has sat in the Supreme Court’s committees to reform the bar exams, has also called the bar exam process an “unscientific” gauge to determine the fitness of aspiring attorneys.

But even Panganiban concedes that there is a cultural and social element which will stand in the way of scrapping or even re-formatting the examinations (for example, to make the larger percentage of exam questions multiple-choice, as is the case in the U.S., rather than exclusively essay-type). Passing the bar has always been a source of pride not only for the candidates but also for their extended families and friends (not to mention the law schools). Until a better substitute is perfected and implemented, this anachronistic tradition will remain.

8 thoughts on “The 2008 Philippine Bar Exams End Today: Is It Still Necessary ?”

  1. hello warrior lawyer. thank you for leaving a comment which I happen to read only now.

    the reforms will never happen soon. Prof. Domondon once told that the Bar exam is becoming elitist. There’s truth in it. The preparation is too costly,i.e., fees for the review and application, lodging, food, materials, fare for those in the south, etc. etc.

    He aptly noted that reforms in the bar should start with the legal education board that was constituted which was sadly taken for granted. That the present bar examination is not a scientific gauge for an “entry-level” competence in the bar has long been a factoid. That the judiciary has been mum about it for decades is quite disturbing.

    I don’t know but I myself can’t impose the scrapping of such test now and in the future so as to let future takers to experience an unexplainable toil. If they call on tradition let them eat it. The upholding of tradition to justify things have seen the production of disastrous consequences.

    The speech of Tony Meloto I have read is very instructive. Why close the doors of the judiciary for thousands who could otherwise deliver justice to many who seek it but fail to get because there aren’t many ministers?

    “I strongly disagree with the statement I read in the papers today that there is an oversupply of lawyers in the Philippines. On the contrary, we need more of them. Lawyers are as important as scientists, engineers, and economists in a developing country like the Philippines; only we do not have enough of them in the right places. Where there is grave social inequity in wealth and opportunity, we need more lawyers in the alternative field.”

    btw, I want to be a warrior lawyer too 🙂

  2. You are already a warrior in your heart, EBUDAE88. You have the courage and tenacity to follow your dream. I hope you did not find the bar exams too taxing. But like I said previously, those who found the bar difficult will most likely pass it. I agree completely with what Mr. Meloto said. There is no oversupply of lawyers, they are just concentrated in urban areas or places which the practice is perceived to be more lucrative. Including, alas, me.

    I hope and pray your generation can do something to rectify this sad situation.

    All the best.

  3. Sir,

    I am not some elitist snob,but one thing I do agree with is the “prestige” attached to passing the bar and becoming a lawyer.Many will never admit it outright but deep down inside,one of the reasons why one wishes to be lawyer is that a lawyer is deemed “above” everyone else.Yes,it smacks of elitism but human nature has seldom yielded to rationality in matters involving heirarchy in society.I have observed,much to my amusement, that people who openly despise and hate lawyers are intimidated by them,or are secretly envious of them.But ofcourse,no one in his right mind will admit that.

    I may or may not pass the recent bar,but that is done and over with.It was difficult,gruelling and mind numbing,but I have no complaints.Every lawyer had to go through that.That is the way it has been,and the way it is.Reforming the Bar to modernnize it would in the end not produce better lawyers because there is no tests in any field of human endeavor that will unfalliably determine who will become a good lawyer,or a mediocre doctor, or an excellent nurse.A person’s level of intellectual capacity is seldom at par with his character and capacity to do good or evil,and character ( which is the foundation of a man’s greatness or infamy ) can not be measured by any tests.Even an in-depth psychoanalytical test can never precisely and definitively predict or determine who will shine and who will cause shame.

  4. Very well said, Wilfred Magz. Character cannot be measured by any kind of exam, as intellectual capacity does not necessarily equate with uprightness. Sadly, some of the supposed towering intellects of our profession are moral pygmies. Witness the recent C.A. scandal.

    Anyway, it’s only a matter of time before your can affix “Atty.” to your name. It’s pompous, I know, but there it is. It took me awhile to get used to being addressed as “attorney” and I still cringe sometimes when I hear it. For some reason I can’t explain even up to now.

    Congratulations for having made it through the most grueling four consecutive Sundays of your life.

  5. abraham lincoln did not go through a bar exam, let alone a formal legal education, yet his legendary stature as a lawyer cannot be denied. the essence of law can be summed up on the adage, “do unto others as ye would like others do unto you”. justice is grounded on fairness, in rendering every man his due.

    be that as it may, in this day and age of mass education, i don’t know of any other workable measure of a person’s competence to represent another and his knowledge of the law, than an all-encompassing bar examination. it is a test in which the candidate is called upon to summon all the knowledge and wisdom he has so far attained in life, including that which he gained in 8 years of undergraduate and graduate studies.

    through the bar exam preparation, a student of the law is compelled to wrap-up all that he learned about the law, careful not to take for granted anything that could come up in the examinations. the one who decides for himself that he has learned “enough”, or that he has studied everything that is “necessary”, is usually the one who fails.

    i believe i learned more about law in my 6-month or so bar preparation than in my entire 4-year program in law school. then again, that’s only me.

  6. @ Bencard, neither did Philippine legal luminary and nationalist icon, Jose “Ka Pepe” Diokno, a shining ray of hope during the dark martial law years. Diokno never attended law school. He simply apprenticed in his father’s law firm, took some review classes and placed number one in the bar.

    You are right. Until there comes along a more rigid, equitable and “scientific” method to determining a candidate’s mettle for practicing the profession, the bar exams, imperfect though it may be, will have to stay.

  7. The issue should not be whether or not to scrap the bar exams. Instead, it should be: How to ensure that those who join the legal profession have solid grounding in legal and personal ethics and professionalism and that only the best and the brightest get to join the legal profession.

    Our political leaders and prominent public personalities should serve as examples of good morality, public and private. A corrupt polity leads to a morally weak and corrupt society and thence to corruption-prone citizenry. It’s a truly sad state of affairs when the citizen views unjust gain and abuse of power as inherent perks of public office. It’s made worst by lawyers, who, coming out of law school knew only how to get around the law and with an ethics-be-damned mentality. Not surprising because ethics and professionalism are observed more in breach in the real world. And so, our leaders have much to do in shaping the ethical inclinations of our law students and lawyers.

    But law curriculum has also an equally important role to play. It is not enough for law schools to tell their students its wrong to be greedy. Law students should be taught every single day, from their first day in law school through the last day just before they graduate, that it is wrong to be greedy. I mean, law school should place prominent emphasis on legal ethics and professional responsibility and public interest law. They should produce graduates who are professionally and ethically competent and with correct appreciation of public service.

    As to the matter of only the best and the brightest joining the legal profession law schools and the legal community including the Supreme Court have such an important role to play. First off, law schools should ensure they have highly competent faculty. (They could set an objective standard for “high competence.”) Case analyzes and case briefings should be a daily feature and take major time in all law subjects. Passing standards for students should be made higher. The Supreme Court must enlist as bar examiners only those with excellent track record in practice and specialization and ensure that the confidentiality of bar exam questions is failsafe.

    As for quality of law practice, I think the mandatory continuing legal education requirement is an important first step in refreshing and upgrading the knowlege and skills of our lawyers.

    Is the bar exam still necessary? Oh yes! But it should be made tougher for examinees to hurdle. This should not be viewed as a pitch for elitism because I would also advocate for the popularization of the law. Our people must be knowlegeable at least of their basic legal rights in different areas of law. As to the media of popularization, well, all forms of media.

    The best, brightest, ethical and professional attorney and a knowlegeable client, hey, that’s qualty.

  8. Can a person who graduated Law in the U.S take the Philippine bar exams? how? please reply on this, i need to know. thank you.

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