JR Lopez Gonzales 1:12 PM 1
The Philippine Bar exams, since its advent about 102 years ago, constantly tested the aspiring lawyers on their fitness to belong to the league of lawyers. Answered in a purely essay-type form, the exam is arguably the most difficult professional examination in the Philippines given the low national passing rate and stricter admission standards, not by the Professional Regulatory Commission but by the Supreme Court itself.
Our exams have always been in this format and were adaptations from our American colonizers. As noted by retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza in 2003, the “admission to the Bar through a system of written examinations is a uniquely American tradition, which was transplanted in the Philippines”. Without a doubt as part of its mission of the United States’ “benevolent assimilation” of the archipelago, the Americans replaced the Spanish system of admitting applicants to the Bar (previously based on one’s attainment of a licentiate in law and a period of apprenticeship), and replaced it with the American way. It can also be noted that at present, one does not need to pass an exam to be a lawyer in Spain; mere graduation from law school enables one to the practice of law.
The American practices and procedures remain the same as they were first introduced in our country; and we have always followed its conservative proclivity since the 1900s. At the turn of the century, this conservative tendency was finally challenged with the introduction of reforms for the bar examinations after some shares of SC scandals. As an example, the 2003 Mercantile Law leakage greatly underscored the need to institute much-needed changes and reforms in the conduct of the exams which nearly resulted in a re-take examination. The SC nullified the examiner, and disbarred the lawyer who go the questions from the examiner’s computer and faxed them to a law fraternity.
This scandal was later addressed with the clamor for reforms through the work of Justice Mendoza, who had chaired the 2002 Bar exams. The three areas for major reforms include: 1) Structural and policy reforms, 2) Changes in the design and construction of test questions, and 3) Methodological reforms. He also proposed reforms by the “introduction of objective multiple-choice questions in the Bar exams”, the “formulation of essay test questions and ‘model’ essays by more than one Bar examiner”, and the “introduction of performance testing by way of revising and improving the essay exam on Legal Ethics and Practical Exercises”.
These proposals were subsequent adopted by the SC in Bar Matter No. 1161, which was issued on June 8, 2004 and took effect on July 14, 2004. Now, much reforms were made especially in the last two years with the continuous shifting of the bar exam formats and with the introduction of the purely multiple choice questions (MCQs) in the 2011 Bar Examinations. With the SC committee on bar examinations headed by Justice Roberto Abad, it was introduced to better measure the ability of the students to recall and review laws, doctrines and principles; noting that it has become the mainstay of bar exams abroad and of board exams given locally for other professions.
But in March 2012, the SC has again approved a new format of the year’s bar exams. This innovation was composed of 60% multiple choice questions and 40% traditional essay questions with Legal Memo only on the afternoon of the last Sunday on Practical Exercises. And seeming that the SC couldn’t get enough of the changes, another reform was again introduced in this year’s 2013 Bar exams.
As per Bar Bulletin No. 1, the Supreme Court (SC) revealed that the examination structure for this year's Bar Examinations will be composed of 20% multiple choice questions (MCQ) and 80% essay, giving more weight to its old format of having more essay type questions. With this, it would seem that there’s this SC direction of going back to the traditional form.
Talking about the formats, I personally side on the essay questions as there are questions that do not necessarily call for a clear-cut answer. Answering in the essay form showcases one’s “mastery on the vehicle of the legal mind”. Essay questions test the capacity of the bar takers to express themselves, to analyze questions, and most importantly to justify on their stand. In MCQs, the answer is already on the answer sheet but is proven to be more difficult (according to some friends, and the bar statistics) given that examiners have this brilliant ability to cloak the choices to make all of them seem correct.
And now with these pendulum-like shifts in the bar formats, guessing that other law students would also affirm, this brings in anxiety. Taking the exam in varying annual Bar exams is like being lab rats for a new intellectual experiment of flip-flopping MCQs and the essay-type questions. As a junior law student this sure brings fear and uncertainty; wondering what could then again be the SC reform by the time (God-willing) that I take the Bar.
But truth be told, the kind of legal mind and logic will not change no matter what kind of Bar Exam format will be adopted. It will still be based on reading, understanding, consideration of the applicable law, and answering time for the questions. With this, I believe then that the preparations would not substantially change, including the relentless prayers to the Almighty to pass the Bar. That is one of the things which would always remain constant.
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