MANILA, Philippines?This year?s bar exams not only have a record number of examinees, but also involve an interesting mix of aspiring lawyers, including former Bulacan Gov. Roberto Pagdanganan and an 81-year-old man who is a first-time exam taker.
Pagdanganan, 62, was among the 6,533 law graduates who signed up to take the exams, which are held on the four Sundays of September, according to Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez.
Pagdanganan obtained his Bachelor of Laws degree from Manuel L. Quezon University in 1990. Though he aspires to be a lawyer, he is by no means a stranger to implementing the law.
He was Bulacan governor from 1989 to 1998 and held several Cabinet portfolios. He used to be secretary of agrarian reform and tourism, and chair of Philippine International Trading Corp.
But the veteran politician is not by any chance the most senior among the bunch. Bienvenido Hilario, an 81-year-old graduate of Philippine Law School and who hails from Bulacan, is also trying to enter the law profession.
Marquez said one of the Supreme Court security personnel asked the octogenarian how many times he had taken the exams. ?Excuse me, hijo. This is my first and last take,? was the man?s feisty reply.
Fitful sleep, prayers
Philippine Law School has produced its share of bar topnotchers. In the 2005 bar exams, Dexter Calizar, a graduate of the school, took the ninth spot.
Fitful sleep, last-minute reviews and prayers for the aspiring lawyers marked the last few hours before the exams began.
The morning started early for nervous examinees, who began lining up on Taft Avenue in Manila shortly after 5 a.m.
A lot of them admitted to being nervous. And though most of them devoted months to reviewing for the test that would make them full-fledged lawyers, many still kept their eyes glued to reviewers and notebooks as they filed into the De La Salle University campus.
?Even though you reviewed for many months, you feel like there?s still a lot you don?t know. But nobody can know everything. So as one professor told us, you just have to let go,? said Eleanor Abellar, a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law.
But to be sure, Abellar spent some of the remaining hours before the 8 a.m. start of the exams going over her notes as well as reviewers, primers and ?tips,? which contained questions that were expected to come out and their answers.
When she woke up at around 4:30 a.m., more primers and tips were shoved under her hotel room door by law school undergraduates who serve as the examinees? assistants.
One primer contained the summary of major decisions penned by Supreme Court Justice Dante Tinga, who heads the committee handling the exams this year. Another contained a list of ?lecture notes? of a professor rumored to be the examiner in labor law.
Law graduates said it was not unusual for rumors about the identities of examiners to come up, or for the examinees to speculate on who these examiners might be.
When a certain name came up as a possible examiner, the law graduates usually studied his books or his works in hopes of gaining an insight into how he thinks and the issues he likes to discuss.
Abellar also took note of the ?tips? from bar topnotcher Janet Abuel, through the latter?s book that gave advice on how to do well in the bar exams.
Enterprising people seemed to be aware of the examinees? practice of last-minute review. A few stalls selling ?notes? on the exam subjects were spotted on Taft Avenue. Prices of the notes ranged from P120 to P160, depending on the subject.
One taho (tofu or bean curd) vendor practiced an ingenious marketing trick as he plied his stuff among the anxious examinees. ?Taho! Pampatalas ng isip (It will sharpen your mind)!? he shouted.
As in past bar exams, families, friends, professors and supporters of the examinees were out in full force to cheer them on.
Though there were no drums or marching bands unlike in recent years, shouts of encouragement, honking cars and cheering from the spectators created a festive atmosphere.
There were fewer balloons and confetti, as well, but the banners from the different schools and organizations proclaimed all-out support for their graduates.
Ban on Oblation run
Since last year, the Supreme Court has banned traditional rowdy activities, including an ?Oblation run,? that had marked the start of the exams.
A lot of the spectators also gave out food, handshakes, hugs and kisses as their friends or loved ones filed past them to enter the exam venue.
While some of the examinees grinned or waved, not a few appeared anxious, looking ahead with expressionless faces or down at their notebooks.
Waiting for the bar exams is difficult and nerve-wracking, many of the law graduates said.
The last six months before the exams were the time the graduates usually became hermits to devote their waking hours to books.
Abellar recalled that she would alternate studying at home and in coffee shops just to break the monotony. She also visited several churches during her review. On the eve of the exams, she heard Mass at Century Park hotel.
When the first Sunday of the exams was just a few hours away, nerves made it difficult for her to go to bed early. She was only able to get some sleep at around 1:30 a.m., but she was up and about shortly before 5 a.m.