Lawyers are notorious for their penchant for circumventing the law and finding legal loopholes. It is amazing and at the same time infuriating that many of the so-called “‘abogado de campanilla” are capable of twisting and re-interpreting the law to suit their agenda. Some are only interested in emphasizing the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. The aptitude for argumentation is expected from lawyers and this is emphasized by the way they are tested in the bar exam.
For almost a century since the first Philippine bar exam was held in 1901 with only 13 examinees, the exam has been in essay form. This was patterned from the US model. The current Philippine bar exam covers eight areas of the law, namely, (1) Political Law, (2) Labor Law and Social Legislation, (3) Criminal Law, (4) Civil Law, (5) Commercial Law, (6) Taxation Law, (7) Remedial Law and (8) Legal ethics and practical exercises. Although these are specific categories, the formulation of the questions and the grading of the answers are virtually arbitrary. The fate of the examiners largely depend upon the subjective interpretations of the committee of examiners. The entire exam takes four Sundays and it usually take several months before the results are published. It is not surprising considering the crude way of checking the exams. Aside from the argumentation skills of the examiners, their penmanships also matter. Obviously, if the penmanship is barely intelligible, the answers cannot be properly graded.
The arbitrariness of the way the bar exam is graded cannot be ignored. This is the main reason of the seemingly unpredictable questions and exam results. There is no consistent pattern in the number of passers each year but there is notable pattern when it comes to the schools that usually produce the top ten bar passers. Two of the usual schools that produce top bar passers are the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines. Coincidentally, most of the members of the committee of examiners also come from these schools.
The Philippine bar exam is considered as the most difficult professional licensure exam in this country. Some would argue that this is not because of the technical and analytical aspect of the exam but because of its arbitrary nature. To date, the highest number of passers recorded was in 2001 with the passing rate of 32.89% or equivalent to 1,266 out of 3,849 examinees. Meanwhile, the lowest ever recorded passing rate was in 1999 with only a passing rate of 16.59% or equivalent to 660 successful examinees.
The proposal to modify the format of the Philippine bar exam to include multiple choice tests is a welcome change. It will not only lead to faster checking of the exam but will also ensure objectivity. However, the quality of the exam must not be compromised. Otherwise,the Philippines might end up being infested by incompetent lawyers.