The lawyers’ oath

The results of the 2016 bar exams came out last Wednesday. 3,747 or 59 percent of the 6,344 examinees passed, a historic number as it is the highest passing percentage in the last 30 years. In fact, for the first time in 32 years when I started watching out for the bar exam results (when I was about to enter the University of the Philippines College of Law and the year when my college classmates like Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Ateneo Law School Dean Sedfrey Candelaria passed the bar), I do not personally know any one that failed this most recent bar exams.

Every year before 2017, without fail, I always reach out to more than one friend, classmate, student, or relative to give an encouraging word in the face of what would seem crushing failure. But now, happily, there is no need to do this. Hopefully, this will always be the case from now on. I think the country, with a population of more than a hundred million, needs more lawyers. Of course, as I will reflect later in this column, we need the right set of lawyers.

Another surprise from this year’s bar results is that graduates from provincial law schools topped the exams, shutting completely from the top 10 the usual Metro Manila schools. Actually, the democratization and geographic dispersal of legal intelligence has been going on for years. It’s not a new development as every year for the last ten years, we have seen one or two graduates of provincial law schools doing well in the exams, consistently for example from Cebu and Baguio law schools.

Indeed, it’s a different world now in legal academe—more competitive, with talent and discipline geographically dispersed and highly democratized. As someone who teaches and lectures in many places in the country, I have seen this trend everywhere. And it’s happening in debates and in moot court competitions as well. This is good for the country and we should welcome it.

This year, the top ten came from three Visayan, two Mindanao, and two Luzon schools. At least four of the top ten are from Mindanao—two from Dipolog apparently, one from Davao, and the topnotcher herself is from Bukidnon although she studied in Cebu City. One must also note that the top five placers are all women and eight of the twelve in the top ten are women. With majority of law students now women, at least in the law schools I teach in, this latest statistic did not surprise me.

Nearer to home, I am proud of my law Alma Mater, the UP College of Law, and our graduates with a passing rate of more 98-99 percent and with many repeaters finally making it. As in the case of 2011 when we had a good passing rate, it does not matter that nobody got in the top ten. The passing rate is always more important. As I told my current UP Law students last Wednesday, during our time in the late 1980s, a 70-75 percent passing rate was fine but that meant one out of every three classmates, people you actually knew and cared about, failed.

Happily, many schools have been reporting high and historic passing rates, including for their repeaters. These include all the schools I am affiliated with—UP Law, Ateneo Law School, De La Salle University College of Law, Polytechnic University of the Philippines College of Law, Xavier University College of Law, and Lyceum College of Law as well as San Beda College and Pamantasan ng Maynila where I teach graduate law courses. Three other Mindanao law schools close to my heart, those of Ateneo de Zamboanga, Ateneo de Davao University, and Urios University, also did well.

Congratulations are in order to the Deans of all law schools, especially those I personally know and work with—Deans Danny Concepcion (also UP President), Sed Candelaria, Raul Villanueva, Josefe Ty, Manny Quibod, Sol Derequito-Mawis, Chel Diokno, Gemy Festin, Gwen Grecia De Vera, and Junie Castillo. Of course, Dean Joan Largo of the University of San Carlos deserves special mention. When I congratulated Dean Joan, I told her how impressed I was with her topnotchers—they seem to very humble, unassuming, and not arrogant, in Cebuano “dili kapayason.”

This weekend, many will be celebrating their bar success after hard work. What then?

As my welcome to my new colleagues, I begin in this column a series of articles on the legal profession. In particular, I will be serializing the speech delivered by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno during the 16th National Convention of Lawyers of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on March 24, 2017 at Marriott Manila, in Pasay City.

In a dramatic moment in her speech, the Chief Justice asked all the lawyers present to renew the oath they took when they became lawyers. The Chief Justice then reflected on what such an oath meant. She said: “All of us have, at different times, taken the Lawyer’s Oath. For most, it was the first and probably the only time the Oath was pronounced. For many, the words of the Oath have long been forgotten. For some, and I hope this is an exceedingly small number, they may have long been broken. The Lawyer’s Oath is no ordinary canonical incantation nor is it a routinary legal requirement. The Oath, far from being a sterile form of words, gives us the roadmap to action as lawyers and defines us, as a profession. In a very real sense, it is a definition of who we are and to what we have been called.”

Chief Justice Sereno pointed out the values of fidelity, commitment, integrity, and courage. Lawyers are called to be faithful to the flag of the Republic, to its Constitution, laws, and duly constituted authorities. We are asked to commit to the rule of law, to uphold and advance it. We must have integrity and practice law in an ethical manner. We must be courageous in being faithful to our oath.

According to the Chief Justice, we must always take our Oath seriously. This means: “in the face of misinformation and confusion, we have a duty to always be candid and truthful not only to the courts but also to our clients and also to the public”. This requires us, “in the face of clear and patent injustices”, “to not turn a blind eye but to do what we can to help. Finally, being faithful to the lawyer’s oath, “in the midst of impunity and a rising tide of hopelessness about the rule of law, we are called to bring hope to our people.”

Just before I started writing this column, a friend of mine discerning whether law is for her, asked me: “If the mission of doctors is healing, what are lawyers for?” My immediate answer: for building a just and happy society.

Lawyers are called to be builders of the nation. My hope is that my 3,747 new compañeros and compañeras will embrace this mission. Only then can the whole country truly celebrate their success.


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Topics: Tony La Vina , The lawyers’ oath , 2016 bar exams
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