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.