For the first time in Philippine history, the Supreme Court (SC), has approved a localized, digitized, and proctored Bar examinations held on February 4 & 6, 2022 in 31 local testing sites across the country.
Past Bar examinations were conducted every September at De La Salle University (DLSU) in the City of Manila, however, due to security concerns after the 2010 Philippine Bar exam bombing, the SC moved the examinations to University of Santo Tomas every November.
The Bar was postponed three times due to COVID-19, and was eventually reduced to two days instead of four Sundays to avoid examinees contracting the virus mid-exam. The pandemic pushed the high court to hold the first digitized and remote Bar in history.
“A total of 11, 378 law graduates took the two-day Bar examinations. Easily, this is the largest batch of Bar examinees, and it is the batch that will fulfill the lack of new lawyers that happened in the last two years because of the pandemic,” SC Associate Justice (AJ) Marvic Leonen said.
For the combined 2020 and 2021 batches, the examinees took the test using their laptops instead of the traditional handwritten mode of answering. As soon as examinees entered the password for the examination questions that they downloaded, no other applications were allowed to run on their computers.
Leonen said that there were physical proctors and surveillance cameras in each room where the examinations were taken to ensure the integrity of the examinations.
On March 11, 2021, the Office of the Bar Chairperson issued Bar Bulletin No. 19, inviting institutions to apply as local testing centers based on specific indicative requirements. After assessment, negotiations, and initial ocular inspections, Saint Mary’s University College of Law (SMU COL) was one of the institutions which was approved to be local testing center for the 2020/21 Bar Examinations.
SMU COL Dean, Atty. Epifanio Delbert G. Galima III, disclosed that there were originally 151 examinees, 46 from SMU and 105 from nearby provinces, unfortunately, 3 tested positive via Antigen Test and were barred from entering the testing site in consonance to government protocols that they should isolate themselves.
As AJ Leonen said, “Even if it is difficult for us to stop a reviewee who studied for two years from entering the testing center, we are an institution that needs to protect our rationale. Our rationale is the application of the law.”
“We are very fortunate because for the first time, the Bar exam was conducted in the province of Nueva Vizcaya. Originally, barristers take their examinations at the DLSU in Manila, but because of the pandemic, the Bar was regionalized. Luckily, SMU was one of the accredited local testing centers,” Galima declared.
“There were 6 law school applicants in Region 2, however, only 2 were qualified – SMU in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, and Cagayan State University in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan,” he added.
According to Galima, during the conduct of the Bar, SMU was under the effective control of the SC. However, there were 20 SMU personnel on stand-by in their isolation rooms in case some technical problems occur.
“For this batch of examinees, there will be no numerical grade. The SC, through the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) will issue either “PASS” or “NOT PASS” as rating. The SC will only award law schools based on performance ratings,” he said.
In closing, Galima expressed his gratitude to the Provincial Government of Nueva Vizcaya; the Local Government Unit of Bayombong; the Barangay Local Government Units of District IV and Don Mariano Marcos; the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Nueva Vizcaya Chapter; his fellow lawyers; SMU and SC personnel; and all the people who extended help, for their countless contributions to the success of the recently concluded Bar examinations in the province.
It is noteworthy that no untoward incident was recorded in the duration of the Bar. Likewise, Galima is positive and hopeful that aspiring lawyers who took the Bar in the SMU testing center will pass. The 2019 Bar Examinations, the last before the pandemic, had 7,685 takers. Of that, 2,103 passed or equivalent to 27.36 % passing rate.