The Supreme Court has declared as unconstitutional the memorandum circular issued by the Legal Education Board requiring aspiring law students to pass the Philippine Law School Admission Test (PhiLSAT) before they can enter law school.
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In a decision penned by Associate Justice Jose C. Reyes Jr., the Court partially granted the petitions filed a group led by former Makati City Regional Trial Court judge Oscar B. Pimentel and a group of intervenors led by April D. Caballero.
“The regular admission of students who were conditionally admitted and enrolled is left to the discretion of the law schools in the exercise of their academic freedom,” the Court said.
The LEB, in its memorandum, said no applicant shall be admitted for enrollment as a first year student in the basic law courses leading to a degree of either Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor unless they passed PhilSAT taken within two years before the start of studies for the basic law course.
“The act and practice of the LEB of dictating the qualifications and classifications of faculty members, dean, and dean of graduate schools of law [is] in violation of institutional academic freedom on who may teach,” it said.
“The act and practice of the LEB of dictating the policies on the establishment of legal apprenticeship and legal internship programs [is] in violation of the institutional academic freedom on what to teach,” it added.
The LEB went beyond its authority in issuing the memorandum, the Court said.
“When PhiLSAT is used to exclude, qualify and restrict admissions to law schools, as its present design mandates, the PhiLSAT goes beyond mere supervision and regulation, violates institutional academic freedom, becomes unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional,” the Court said.
Legal education deserves serious attention but crafting measures to see it through should be done through consultative summits with the LEB and law schools working hand in hand, it added.
Under the memorandum circular, PhiLSAT examinations were held by LEB in April 2017, September 2017, April 2018, and September 2018.
The school year 2017-2018 was the pilot year for PhiLSAT but law schools were allowed to enroll students who took the examinations but did not pass the tests.
Pimentel’s group sought the abolition of the LEB and PhiLSAT and the transfer of the regulation of law schools to the Supreme Court.
The LEB was created under Republic Act No. 7662, known as the Legal Education Reform Act of 1993, as an agency separate from the Department of Education but attached to it only for budgetary purposes and administrative support.
Among the powers vested in the LEB by the law were the administration of legal education system in the country, supervision of law schools, setting of standards for accreditation of law schools, prescription of minimum standards for law admission and minimum qualifications and compensation to faculty members.
Days before the conduct of the first PhiLSAT in 2017, Pimentel’s group filed a petition with the SC seeking to declare unconstitutional the creation of the LEB and to invalidate all the issuances of the board, particularly the admission test for law students.
The group said the functions of the LEB under the law that created it are encroachments on the rule-making power of the Supreme Court concerning admissions to the practice of law.
On March 12, 2019, the Court issued a temporary restraining order on the PhiLSAT.
In ruling against LEB, the SC ruled that “the PhiLSAT… operates not only as a measure of an applicant’s aptitude for law school.”
The pass or fail exam dictates upon the law schools who among the examinees are to be admitted to any law program.
“When the PhiLSAT is used to exclude, qualify, and restrict admissions to law schools, as its present design mandates, the PhiLSAT goes beyond mere supervision and regulation, violates institutional academic freedom, becomes unreasonable and therefore, unconstitutional,” the Court ruled.
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