Justice Leonen to pitch 'fail or pass only' for bar exams

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said on Wednesday, July 31, that he will propose to the en banc to make the Philippine bar examinations follow a pass-or-fail-only system.

The current bar examinations individually grade passers, resulting in a yearly spectacle around topnotchers, with law schools yearning for the distinction of either producing the most number of topnotchers or scoring the highest passing rate.

The bar exams have a passing grade of 75%, which the en banc may adjust if needed.

"To make it possible, I think that the Court should now come to a process of rethinking the process of admission to the bar...First, that we introduce a simple pass or fail system," said Leonen on Wednesday during the first-ever Legal Education Summit headed by the SC.

The summit was a priority agenda for Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin who wanted to respond to criticisms that legal education in the Philippines is "purely knowledge-based," and "inadequate, outdated and needed to be enhanced."

Leonen said he will also pitch that the bar exams be computerized, "making it possible to hold the bar examinations in various areas."

Leonen also wants questions from previous bar exams, and their suggested answers, to be uploaded on the SC website.

"Law schools can do better simply by becoming fully academic institutions. It is time that we rethink why we continue to reinforce status quo and whether this is the role we wish to take within our current society, full of injustice, full of inequality, wanting social justice," said Leonen.

Leonen is the chairman of the 2020 bar examinations. "It is not true that it will be unreasonable. It will be very reasonable," the justice said.

'Fairer bar exams'

The next examinations, or the 2019 bar examinations, will be "fairer," according to 2019 bar chair Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

Bernabe said she will make sure that the coverage of this year's bar exams will stick to a syllabus that "that is markedly different from the previous syllabi."

"I have intentionally prefaced every syllabus with a note that only all laws, rules, issuances, and jurisprudence pertinent to the topics stated therein as of the cut-off date are included in the coverage," Bernabe said.

Bernabe added: "I am further determined to make sure that the bar exams will not include unfair trivia questions, or questions that tend to mislead the examinees." (READ: More 'reasonable' bar exams resulted in high passing rate)

Bernabe said she will make sure that bar exam questions are not intentionally made difficult just for the sake of being difficult.

Bernabe said she will remove from the syllabus "topics which appear to be obsolete or of little relevance in today's present practice."

Starting this year, the bar exams will have two examiners per subjects.

"With two experts working and sharing the burden for each bar subject, the consistency, efficiency and thoroughness of the assessment can be maximized, and the results can be released at a much earlier time," said Bernabe.Rappler.com

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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.