The UP College of Law topped anew the 2014 Bar examinations with my student, Nielsen Pangan, placing first. His schoolmate, Mark Oyales, bagged the second place. Three other students from UP Law landed in the top 10: Eden Mopia was fourth, Michael Tiu was eighth and Cyril Arnesto was tenth.
This was the first time for UP Law to top the Bar Examinations since Joanne de Venecia placed first in 2005. In 2011, no one from UP placed in the top 10 of the Bar.
I am, of course, together with the entire UP community, ecstatic about the results. This is not just because I am a product and a professor of UP Law. It is more because every UP graduate’s success is a toast to the poor and the middle class in this country. The UP dream is the stuff that is written about in telenovelas: poor children dreaming of climbing the economic ladder through a world-class education.
That’s why more people celebrate when UP students top not just the Bar -but the other Board exams as well. While private school graduates should also be honored when they reach similar success, the joy of topping the exams for a rich kid is simply not the same when poor or middle class students achieve the same fete. This explains why when the likes of Nielsen, the son of a Meralco engineer and a housewife; and Mark, son of a security employee and a bakery worker from Tacloban, top the bar, the entire nation celebrates with them. This is because their success is the success of every middle-class and poor family in this country. Rich people, when they achieve the same feat, celebrate only amongst themselves in their gated enclaves. The poor and the middle class, on the other hand, live their dreams through students like Pangan and Oyales. This is the UP fairy tale.
Be that as it may, this country really ought to reconsider the prestige and importance that it bestows on the Bar top notchers. Having been a Bar examiner in 2010, I have probably earned the right to say that given the very limited time given to Bar examiners to check almost 6,000 booklets of essay questions, the Bar exams could not be a reliable measure of one’s preparedness to be a member of the Bar. Moreover, one’s success as a lawyer is not measured by how well one does in the Bar examinations. Here, it’s the successful barristers’ future conduct as lawyers that will determine his or her greatness as a lawyer. Case in point is that of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who despite having been a bar top notcher, earned notoriety for infringing on rights protected by the Bill of Rights. Here you have an instance when a topnotcher earned notoriety because of what he did with his title later on in his life. If the bar exam results were indeed the ultimate measure of one’s preparedness to be a lawyer, then the remains of Marcos should today be at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and not in an air-conditioned crypt awaiting a funeral.
But an even more fundamental consideration is: what kind of lawyers are we producing with the obsession we have with topping the Bar examinations? Responding to the debacle of 2011 when no student from UP landed in the top 10 of the Bar, UP Law has since required its students to enroll in bar review subjects as electives instead of those that will enrich them as lawyers in an increasingly internationalized profession. For instance, I no longer teach electives on International Humanitarian Law and UNCLOS that have enabled at least two of our graduates, Raymond Sandoval and Suzette Suarez, to land appointments in the International Criminal Court and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, respectively. Likewise, we have done away with the elective on International Trade Law that enabled the likes of Dr. Diane Desierto and Ana Ramos to land careers as a tenured faculty teaching trade law at the University of Hawaii and the World Trade Organization, respectively. Likewise, we have done away with the elective on project financing which has proven to be the country’s monopoly in terms of cross border legal practice.
Worse, this giant step backward—just to satisfy the country’s obsession with Bar top notchers—is still happening when we only have a year before the borderless Asean Economic Community comes into being in 2015. This will usher in not only free cross border trade in goods, but also in services, including the practice of professions.
There is hence an apparent contradiction with UP Law’s decision to revert to being a bar review institute with the decision of the University itself, for instance, to change its academic calendar to begin in August, to be in synch with the rest of Asean. Simply put, we are retreating to the Jurassic past when we seek to produce Bar topnotchers instead of preparing grand lawyers for an increasingly interdependent world.
But what the heck: the public wants the topnotchers and for now, UP played well to the gallery. I hope though that for the country’s sake, this obsession will soon be a thing of the past. For otherwise, while we continue to heap praises on the topnotchers of an archaic exam, the country, meanwhile, may be left behind in the race for modernity.