The democratization of PH legal education
For a long time after the end of World War II, high-quality tertiary education appeared to be the monopoly of this country’s leading universities and colleges, which were mostly located in Metro Manila and Cebu City. The universities and colleges whose teams comprised the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines—the likes of Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas—came to maintain a stranglehold on the honors bestowed by the various national licensure exams in the physical sciences. Students from universities and colleges up and down the country—Northern Luzon, Bicol, Western Visayas, Southern Mindanao—have again and again topped the lists of successful candidates in the licensure examinations for engineers, architects, medicine and the like. Here it is proper and necessary to single out two provincial universities, University of San Carlos and University of San Jose-Recoletos.
Then came the turn of the liberal arts. In this field of human knowledge tertiary education institutions in places distant from Metro Manila have been increasingly showing their colors.
Universities and colleges located in places like Laoag, Iloilo, Tacloban, Dumaguete and Davao began to figure recurrently in the top-10 lists of successful licensure-examination candidates.
In more recent times the provincial universities and cities have been increasingly invading the turf of their Metro Manila fellow-institutions in the field of law. In the 2016 Bar examinations—said to be the most rigorous of the licensure exercises—the provincial law schools virtually swept the list of top 10 successful examinees, and the recently announced list of the 2017 Bar examinations again saw the provincial law schools monopolizing the Top-20 places. Only five of the top 20 successful candidates obtained their Bachelor of Laws degrees from Metro Manila schools and the rest got their LL.B.s from law schools in the Visayas (4), Luzon outside Metro Manila (2) and Mindanao (2).
For the second straight year the topnotcher was a graduate of a non-Metro Manila law school. In the 2016 Bar examinations it was Cebu City’s University of San Carlos (Karen Mae Calan) and in 2017 it was the University of St. La Salle-Bacolod (Mark John Simondo). Among the law schools represented in the 2016 top-20 list were law schools in Palawan and Batangas. The eighth-placer in last year’s examinations was a graduate of Nueva Vizcaya’s St. Mary’s University (Krizza Alcantara-Bagni, with a 89.9 percent score).
The results of the 2017 Bar examinations marked a surprising departure from the outcome of past years’ Bar examinations. Whereas in past years there was a contest between Ateneo de Manila University and UP for the most number of places in the top-10 list, not one candidate from those two law schools landed in the 2017 list. The only top-20 UP placer was 19th-placer Pretz Vinluan.
No doubt the most diehard of Ateneo and UP partisans—especially the leaders of those institutions’ law fraternities—have been wringing their hands over the 2017 Bar results. This is to be expected, given their top-10 track records and the lingering tendency of the Metro Manila law schools to regard the provincial law schools as upstarts. But, given the Bar results of the recent past, that attitude should be laid to rest because legal education clearly has come a long way in the provinces and an increasing number of provincial law schools have ceased to be upstarts. Standouts in this regard are the University of San Carlos and University of San Jose-Recoletos.
The leading law schools are very much focused on—even obsessed with—getting as many of their Bar candidates on the top-20 list. Should this state of affairs change? Should they stop being obsessed with the top-20 list? I think so, and whenever my opinion has been sought on the subject, I have invariably indicated that the greater focus of law-school administrators should be on getting as many candidates as possible past the Bar examinations.
The percentage of successful candidates in 2017 was 25.5 percent, which is unjustifiably low. True, passing the Bar examinations must not be a walk in the park, but a 75 percent failure rate is probably too high. Certainly, it represents an enormous waste of resources; for unsuccessful candidates and their middle-class and low-income families it represents great anguish and much opportunity loss.
True, passing the Bar examinations is in the end a matter of individual capability. But it is equally true that low teaching standards and inadequate law-school facilities also have much to answer for. In this regard, I humbly suggest that the Philippine Association of Law Schools and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines create a joint committee to look into this matter and, with the guidance of the Supreme Court, come up, at long last, with a program designed to address the low-passing-rate problem.
In the meantime, it can be said that the democratization of Philippine legal education is well underway. May the process intensify and accelerate.