SC tackles: Should national law school entrance test PhilSAT be removed?

Lian Buan
Justice Leonen raises the concern that the nationwide test under the control of the State may infringe on academic freedom

PHILSAT. Petitioners want to remove PhilSAT which has been imposed as the additional requirement for aspiring law students on top of the schools' own entrance examinations. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) tackled in oral arguments on Tuesday, March 5, petitions seeking to remove the national law school entrance test and declare the law that created the Legal Education Board (LEB) unconstitutional.

The petitions argue that creating the Philippine Law School Admission Test (PhilSAT) violates Section 5(e), Article XIV, of the Constitution that guarantees the right to “a profession or course of study, subject to fair, reasonable, and equitable admission and academic requirements.

Aspiring law students are required to take the PhilSAT on top of the entrance examinations administered by their choice schools. However, in some schools like the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, the PhilSAT can be waived.

It was the LEB which created the PhilSAT that piloted in 2017. Petitioners said it has gone in the way of dreams of aspiring lawyers who flunked PhilSAT or cannot afford to pay PhilSAT fees. The passing rate for the first PhilSAT in 2017 was 81.43%.

Right away, lawyer Karla Marie Tumulak, counsel for one group of petitioners, told Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that they are not opposed to the idea of an entrance examination, just that it could not be the LEB that supervises it.

“Your only problem is you don’t want LEB to do it? You want the Supreme Court to do it, that’s the bottomline for you,” Carpio said.

Tumulak said, “Yes, your honor.”

Tumulak said that Section 5, Article VIII, of the Constitution says it’s the Supreme Court that is authorized to “promulgate rules concerning the….admssion to the practice of law.”

“You’re saying we have been in deriliction of our duty since 1935, and it’s time we perform our constitutional duty,” Carpio said. Tumulak agreed.

Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza told petitioners to “be careful what you pray for.”

“If you ask the Court to be the one to exercise the power, you also don’t know, among these 15 magistrates, they may have standards higher than the LEB. I have a problem with that,” Jardeleza said.

Academic freedom

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen raised the concern that the nationwide test under the control of the State may infringe on academic freedom.

“The legal academe is expected to philosophically, theoretically, and pragmatically always criticize the judiciary, and the bar review center is for the purpose of accommodating everybody in order that they pass the professional exam,” Leonen said.

Leonen added: “In fact, the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States as well as justices of any Supreme Court in the world is so scared of legal academic institutions. Therefore we always have to consider the concept of academic freedom.”

Leonen also brought up the issue of academics being admonished by the Supreme Court, which strikes personal chords among the bench because, not so long ago, Leonen as a UP Law professor was admonished by the High Court for asking Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo to resign over plagiarism allegations.

“Would you say that the LEB rules are unconstitutional not because it was not the Supreme Court that promulgated it but because it infringes upon the academic freedom of law schools?” Leonen asked rhetorically.

When it was Carpio’s turn again, he made the point that the State should not be able to filter out applicants to law schools because it violates people’s right to know, particularly those who just want to study law but do not necessarily want to become lawyers.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, who represents LEB, said he has never known a person who wants to study law but does not want to become a lawyer.

“There are many policemen who go to law school not for the purpose of becoming a lawyer, but because if you are an LLB graduate, you get promoted. It’s equivalent to a masteral degree, so there is a civil service advantage but they don’t take the bar,” said Carpio.

In his position paper, Calida said petitioners cannot seek to declare the LEB law unconstitutional because the law is an act of Congress.

“Their failure to implead Congress deprives the institution of procedural due process,” said Calida. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.