Monday, November 2, 2015

Entering the Legal Profession - Former SC CJ A. Panganiban

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(Address delivered by retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban as guest of honor and speaker during the 116th Foundation Day Celebration of the Philippine Bar Association, held at the Hotel Intercontinental on April 26, 2007.)

I am deeply honored to have been invited as your guest of honor and speaker. Although I have already retired from the judiciary and am now a private citizen, the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) has deemed me still worthy to address this important milestone: the 116th foundation day celebration of the oldest and largest voluntary aggrupation of lawyers in our country.

Born on April 8, 1891 as the Colegio de Abogados de Filipinas, the PBA has a pedigreed tradition dating back to the gloried days of Apolinario Mabini, Felipe Calderon, Cayetano Arellano and Jose Abad Santos, to name a few of its illustrious heroes and leaders.

And as if that honor is not enough, your esteemed former president, Ricardo J. Romulo – who heads one of the most prominent law firms in the nation – has chosen heart-uplifting, though undeserved, words to introduce me to the audience. Thank you compañeros for your tributes to this retired, though hopefully not retarded, jurist.

The 2006 bar exam

Yesterday (April 25, 2007), at the Philippine International Convention Center, 1,893 law graduates who passed the 2006 bar examinations were sworn in as new members of the noblest profession in the world. The Supreme Court ended its summer session in Baguio and the justices motored to Manila to attend the solemn rites.

Inasmuch as the actual examination was conducted in September last year during my watch as Chief Justice, I was invited to the ceremony. The mood at the PICC was jubilant and triumphant. I could feel the ecstasy and the sense of fulfillment that pervaded the huge PICC Plenary Hall. Even the normally somber Supreme Court justices wore smiling faces.

As we already know, a graduate of the University of the Cordilleras, formerly the Baguio Colleges Foundation, (Noel Neil Q. Malimba) topped the test. For the nonce, the traditional rivals, Ateneo de Manila (represented by Ricardo M. Pilares Jr.) and the University of the Philippines (Deborah S. Acosta) had to set aside their “mirror” competition, stop asking who is the “fairest of them all” and content themselves with a tie for the second place. Additionally, Ateneo grabbed the third (Erika Ana Andrea C. Jimenez) and fourth (Maria Charizza B. Carlos) places; and UP, the ninth (Timothy Joseph M. Mendoza) and tenth (Alain Charles J. Veloso) spots. Does that make them even (“patas lang”) at three plums each in the top ten?

Far Eastern University (Gina Lyn R. Rubio) took the fifth; the Dr. Orestes V. Romualdez Educational Foundation of Leyte (Anjuli Larla A. Tan), the sixth; the University of San Carlos (Karen H. Gaviola), the seventh; and the University of Cebu (Al-shwaid L. Ismael), the eighth place.

The 2006 bar will be remembered for many things, among them the following trivia:

1) This batch, numbering 6,187, is the largest ever to take the examination but the 1,893 passers (30.60 percent) do not constitute the largest group of successful candidates. In 1954, 2,410 passed out of the 3,226 who took the test, catapulting that year to the highest passing percentage at 75.17 percent.

2) During the last 37 years, from 1969 to 2006, the first place had always been a monopoly of Ateneo de Manila and UP, interrupted only in 2006 by the University of the Cordilleras (Malimba); in 2002 by the University of Santo Tomas (Arlene B. Maneja); in 1998, also by the University of the Cordilleras (Janet B. Abuel); in 1975, by the University of the East (Nicanor B. Padilla Jr.); and in 1970, by the FEU (Romulo D. San Juan).

3) The year 2006 marks the first time that four non-Metro Manila schools copped four of the top ten places: University of the Cordilleras, University of San Carlos, Romualdez Educational Foundation, and University of Cebu.

4) Even though 2006 signals the first time that graduates of the University of Cebu took the test, yet one of them placed among the top ten. UC President Augusto Go was so enthused by the performance of his students that he gifted 8th Placer Ismael with a brand new car.

Some people say that too much importance is being given the bar placers. They aver that there are many law graduates who did not make it to the top ten but who nevertheless succeeded even more than the placers. Their favorite example is the late Senator Claro M. Recto, who failed in his first bar attempt but became a highly-admired practitioner and lawmaker.

True, the bar examination is not the only measure of a lawyer’s worth, but it cannot be denied that bar placers, especially those who were also deans’ listers, get a big headstart because they are sought after by the big law firms, business conglomerates and important government institutions including the Supreme Court.

The bar exam illustrados

It is equally true that many bar illustrados have demonstrated enviable track records in the profession and in the government. Consider these statistics:

Four incumbent SC justices are bar placers: Antonio T. Carpio (6th place, 1975), Adolfo S. Azcuna (4th, 1962), Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. (6th, 1971) and Antonio B. Nachura (7th, 1967), along with two SC officials, Assistant Court Administrator Antonio H. Dujua (8th, 1969) and Corazon G. Ferrer-Flores (10th, 1986).

Of the 21 past Chief Justices, nine were topnotchers: Jose Yulo (3rd, 1915), Cesar Bengzon (2nd, 1919), Roberto Concepcion (1st, 1924), Querube C. Makalintal (7th, 1933), Ramon C. Aquino (6th, 1939), Claudio Teehankee (1st, 1940), Pedro L. Yap (1st, 1946), Andres R. Narvasa (2nd, 1951) and Artemio V. Panganiban (6th, 1960). Notably, the first three lady SC justices rated number one: Cecilia Muñoz-Palma (1937), Ameurfina A. Melencio-Herrera (1947) and Carolina Griño-Aquino (1950).

Retired SC members who figured in the top ten were: Mariano H. de Joya (1st, 1907), Antonio Villareal (1st, 1909), Jose Hontiveros (1911), Jose P. Laurel (2nd, 1915), Alejo Labrador (1st, 1918), J.B.L. Reyes (6th, 1922), Conrado Sanchez (3rd, 1923), Julio Villamor (6th, 1926), Calixto Zaldivar (3rd, 1928), Estanislao Fernandez (4th, 1933), Pacifico P. de Castro and Ramon C. Fernandez (tied for 2nd place, 1939), Lino M. Patajo (7th, 1939), Guillermo Santos (5th, 1944), Buenaventura de la Fuente (5th, 1947), Irene R. Cortez (9th, 1948), Jose C. Campos Jr. (5th, 1949), Isagani A. Cruz (8th, 1951), Florentino P. Feliciano (6th, 1952), and Florenz D. Regalado (1st, 1954), who obtained the highest grade in bar history at 96.7%.

Other notable placers (former Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senate Presidents and Speakers) were Manuel Roxas (1st, 1913), Carlos P. Garcia (6th, 1923), Arturo M. Tolentino (2nd, 1934), Diosdado Macapagal (1st, 1936), Emmanuel Pelaez (1st, 1938), Ferdinand E. Marcos (1st, 1939), Jovito R. Salonga (tied 1st with Jose W. Diokno, 1944), Neptali A. Gonzales (9th, 1949), Ernesto M. Maceda (10th, 1956), and Franklin M. Drilon (3rd, 1969).

Not to be forgotten in this forum are PBA bar placers who have distinguished themselves in private practice, like President Victor P. Lazatin (3rd, 1971), Antonio H. Abad Jr. (10th, 1963); Giorgidi B. Aggabao (10th, 1980); Eduardo J. Berenguer (4th, 1964); Purisimo S. Buyco (4th, 1980); William M. Chato (5th, 1966); Avelino V. Cruz (1st, 1961); Avelino J. Cruz Jr. (7th, 1977); Fulgencio S. Factoran Jr. (9th, 1967); Francis Jardeleza (3rd, 1974); Manuel A. Laserna Jr. (3rd, 1984); Arthur A. Lim (3rd, 1981); Simeon V. Marcelo (5th, 1979); Barbara Ann C. Migallos (3rd, 1979); Rafael L. Morales (4th, 1974); Jovito R. Salonga (1st, 1944); Bienvenido A. Tan Jr. (8th, 1948); Gabriel L. Villareal (9th, 1979); Cesar L. Villanueva (2nd, 1981); and Liberador B. Villegas (3rd, tied with Victor P. Lazatin, 1971).

Other interesting tidbits about the bar exams can be accessed from my personal website,, by clicking “Columns.” This speech will also be posted in my website so those interested in detailed figures can access them.

Some sobering questions

Beyond the excitement generated by the bar examinations are some sobering questions: Is the bar examination a true measure of a law graduate’s performance? How did the country’s law schools fare in the tests over the years? How are the examinations and the law schools being reformed to make them more responsive and relevant to the nation during the 21st century? Let me hazard a few answers.

To be sure, the various countries of the world do not have a uniform regard for the bar examinations. For instance, in Japan and Korea, the exams are so restrictive that less than 5 percent pass every year. On the other hand, in Spain, there are no government examinations for lawyers. Graduation from any of the approved law schools is enough credential to practise law. In the United States, each state of the Union issues licenses to practise in its courts only to those who take and pass that state’s bar exam. The examination is not really that difficult and is almost perfunctory for most examinees, who invariably pass.

In our country, however, the bar examination has always been a national event. And passing the bar has always been a source of pride not only for the candidates but also for their extended families and friends. Being an attorney-at-law opens a whole new world of opportunities, not only in the practice of the profession but also in politics, business, academe, government service and a myriad of activities not easily accessible to other professions.

Twenty five years ago, when there were not too many lawyers in the country, the bar examination was not as difficult as it is today. Moreover, prior to 1982, the passing grade has always been “reconsidered” to include averages below 75 percent, to as low as 69 percent in 1947, 69.45 percent in 1946 and 70 percent in 1948, 1963, 1972 and 1974. After 1982, up to the present, the passing average has however been maintained at 75 percent without any reconsideration.

Performance of the law schools

Let me now give you a short profile of how the law schools fared during the bar tests.

In the exams held from 1946 to 2006, a period of 60 years the University of the Philippines (UP) produced 25 numero unos; Ateneo de Manila (AdM), 17; San Beda, six; Far Eastern University (FEU), four; University of Manila (UM) and University of the Cordilleras (UCor), two each; University of Santo Tomas (UST), University of the East (UE), MLQUniversity (MLQU), University of Bohol and the Philippine Law School (PLS), one each.

Based on the data published in the Supreme Court (SC) website, I also computed the number of top ten placers of the leading schools during the same period. Again, UP topped with 205 placers; followed by AdM, 186; San Beda, 75; FEU, 42; MLQU, 31; UST, 23; UE, 17; University of San Carlos (USC), 15; Lyceum of the Philippines (LP), nine; University of San Agustin (USA), eight; Ateneo de Davao (AdD), Silliman University (SU) and University of Negros Occidental–Recoletos, seven each; PLS, six; and UCor, five.

In a recent but shorter period, 1991-2006, UP produced eight number ones; AdM, five; UCor, two, and UST, one. For the same period, AdM had 61 top ten placers; followed by UP, 55; SBC, 24; AdD, five; UST and USC, four each; FEU& UCor, three each; and MLQU, two.

Based on data culled from the Office of the Bar Confidant, I computed the average passing percentages of the top ten schools for the period 1991-2005 (those for 2006 are still unavailable). AdM topped with 87.57 percent; San Beda, 80.38; UP, 76.4; AdD, 55.35; UST, 49.59; USC, 45.72; Arellano University, 39.75; Xavier University, 33.24; St. Louis University, 30.19; and LP, 27.92.

The national passing percentage for the same period is 25.09. In 1991, there were only 59 law schools, while in 2005, 95. The law colleges that did not participate in 1991 were thus not included in this computation. Nonetheless, it is obvious that too many schools rated below the national passing average for the period.

To determine how new schools have performed, and perhaps to see how law deans have succeeded in responding to the challenge of surpassing the national passing average, I have also computed the law school’s passing averages for shorter periods of time.

For the ten-year period from 1996 to 2005, the national passing average according to the Office of the Bar Confidant is 25.85 percent. The following schools performed past that figure: AdM, 89.19 per cent; San Beda, 85.27; UP, 85.19; AdD, 65.57; UST, 56.70; USC, 54.45; ArU, 46.18; Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), 41.26; XU, 37.45; LP, 32.40; SLU, 31.38; and FEU, 26.25.

For the five-year span, 2001 to 2005, the national passing percentage is 26.42. The following exceeded the national figure: AdM, 90.03; San Beda, 83.92; UP, 80.69; AdD, 67.66; USC, 66.21; UST, 60.90; ArU, 49.81; University of Perpetual Help-Rizal (UPH-R), 43.64; PLM, 40.92; XU, 40.546; LP, 39.86; University of Batangas (UBat), 34.97; University of St. La Salle (USLS), 33.03; FEU, 31.71; USA, 30.58; SU, 29.23; SLU, 29.15; Andres Bonifacio College (ABC), 28.20 and Urios College, 27.54.

For the three separate periods of 15, 10 and 5 years, AdM, San Beda and UP made a consistent 1-2-3 posting. New law schools like PLM, UPH-R, UBat, USLS, ABC and Urios made significant inroads in beating the national passing percentages for those times.

Reforms in the bar tests

1) Those who have failed five or more times shall be allowed to take only one more exam but only after finishing a one year “refresher course”

2) The disqualifications of the bar committee chair and examiners were made more explicit; the non-disclosure of kinship between the chairman and an examinee during the 1999 test provoked this reform

3) To prevent a repetition of a problem in 2002 when an examiner’s computer was hacked, resulting in the invalidation of the test in Mercantile Law, examiners were barred from using computers in preparing their questions

4) Candidates who obtain a grade below 50 percent in any subject were disqualified

5) Multiple choice questions have been adopted

6) The cut-off date for the inclusion in the tests of laws and SC decisions was set at June 30 of the previous year

Over the years, the SC has tried to upgrade, even reinvent, the bar examinations. Extensive reforms were suggested a few years ago by Justice Vicente V. Mendoza, now retired, in a paper entitled “Toward Meaningful Reform in the Bar Examinations.” Various law associations, as well as study groups headed by retired Justices Ameurfina A. Melencio-Herrera and Jose C. Vitug also submitted many proposals. In response, the SC issued a comprehensive resolution (Bar Matter 1161) dated June 8, 2004, approving, inter alia, the following:

For implementation are the appointment of tenured, in lieu of ad hoc, examiners; the introduction of “performance testing;” the organization of “readership panels;” the adoption of the “calibration method” of correcting test papers; and the computerization of the exams. Abangan.

Reforms in legal education

The Supreme Court did not act on four proposals to improve legal education: 1) the accreditation and supervision of law schools; 2) the inclusion of clinical education (apprenticeship) in the law curriculum; 3) the imposition of sanctions on sub-standard law schools, and 4) the taking of a national admission test by those entering a law school.

Even though the Constitution empowers it to regulate “admission to the practice of law,” the Supreme Court however has no authority to supervise law schools directly. Hence, these four items were referred to the Legal Education Board (LEB). Created by Republic Act 7662 on December 23, 1993, the LEB is the agency authorized to “uplift the standards of legal education in order to prepare law students for advocacy, counseling, problem-solving and decision-making.”

The Board is to be headed by a chairman “who shall preferably be a former justice of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals.” The five regular LEB members shall be representatives of the (1) Integrated Bar of the Philippines, (2) the Philippine Association of Law Schools, and (3) the Philippine Association of Law Professors, as well as representatives of (4) “the ranks of the active law practitioners,” and (5) the “law students sector.” The secretary of education shall sit as an ex-officio member.

Sadly, although created 14 years ago, the LEB has not been operationalized; neither has its chair and members been appointed nor its budget allocated. Until these are done by the President of the Philippines, reforms in legal education will remain in limbo.

Ethics and Competence

As a final note, may I say that more than knowledge of the law and competence in its practice, legal ethics should be emphasized both in basic legal education and in the bar exams. Right now, ethics is given only a five per cent share in the tests. More than merely increasing its percentage share, ethics should permeate and be asked in all bar subjects.

To close this address, I would like to paraphrase an oft-quoted Supreme Court decision: the doors to our legal profession must swing on reluctant hinges. Those who want to pass those doors must make a solemn commitment to adhere to an ethical compass. Quality justice always begins with a high standard of ethics. Nothing is more demeaning to the legal profession than scheming attorneys who obsessively use every trick and technicality to delay or obstruct what is fairly due the opposite parties.

During my term as Chief Justice, I have advocated, as a cornerstone of my “Vision-Mission,” the revitalization of the legal profession by “breeding competent and ethical lawyers.” Yes, competent and ethical attorneys, code-named EC (as in easy); that is the legacy I would like to leave our profession, and the legacy that I respectfully ask the Philippine Bar Association to espouse and carry on, as it celebrates it 116th foundation day.

Maraming salamat po.

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