9,207 Bar examinees told: Poor, oppressed need you
MANILA, Philippines—As thousands of law graduates braved the first day of the 2022 Bar exams, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) had this to say: The Philippines is, now more than ever, desperate for lawyers “willing to go beyond the confines of personal ambition and financial gain.”
This, as the World Justice Project revealed in 2018 that only 20 percent of Filipinos were able to access legal help, leaving 80 percent without legal assistance.
As stated by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, 72 percent of the 20 percent asked for legal help from relatives and friends, 15 percent from lawyers, and 13 percent from institutions.
Last April, lawyer Gideon Peña said on Twitter that compared to the United States, where there is one lawyer for every 240 people, there is only one lawyer for every 2,500 people in the Philippines, stressing that the number of lawyers in the Philippines is less than ideal.
Lawyer Jemy Gatdula had stated in a column that while there are 40,000 living lawyers as of 2016, “people have to understand that most of those will not be engaged in traditional law practice” as “many will work in corporations, either as counsel or as part of management.”
He said “still many more will be engaged in private business, politics, or the academe.”
As a result, the actual number of lawyers that people can choose from to handle their litigation or legal requirements is therefore understandably far lesser than what most people think.”
So as 9,207 law graduates braved the first day of the Bar exams on Wednesday (Nov. 9), the NUPL said it hoped that they would always remember the need for lawyers “capable of recognizing and acknowledging the injustices constantly taking place around us.”
Braving the last challenge
The Bar exams this month is the second this year as the #BestBarEver for 2020 and 2021, which was shelved for two years because of the COVID-19 crisis, was held only last February, with 11,402 graduates taking the challenge of braving one of the hardest exams in the Philippines.
READ: #BestBarEver: Finally, Bar exams held despite COVID
Based on data from the Office of the Bar Confidant, 10,074 applications were originally approved and then 10,006 participated in the venue selection and were assigned to the 14 local testing centers (LTCs).
However, as stated by the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday (Nov. 8), only 9,821 were expected to take the exams.
READ: SC: 9,821 applicants to brave through 2022 Bar exams
The SC said the attendance rate for the first day of the #GetThatBar2022 was 92.01 percent as 9,207 were present while 799 were absent.
READ: 9,207 examinees attend first day of 2022 Bar exams — SC
The succeeding days of the Bar exams this year will take place on Nov. 13, 16, and 20. The SC said 5,847 are first-time takers, while 3,974 will be taking the examinations for the second time or more.
The first day of the exams was on Political Law and International Law with related Tax Principles and Labor Law. The second day will cover Criminal Law and Commercial Law, while the third day will be on Civil Law I and Civil Law II. The last day will cover Remedial Law I, Remedial Law II and Legal Ethics.
Out of the 14 LTCs designated by the SC, San Beda University had the highest attendance rate at 96.50 percent as 579 of the 600 examinees there were present.
The lowest attendance rate, meanwhile, was recorded at the Ateneo de Manila University as 296 of the 2,529 expected examinees there were absent
As stressed by Associate Justice and Bar chairperson Benjamin Caguioa, the first day of the 2022 Bar exams went “well and smoothly.”
READ: Bar Chairman explains decision to push through with 2022 Bar examinations
As he asked everyone to continue adhering to health protocols, he said he was very pleased and that he hopes for the same results in the remaining days of the exams.
Back in April, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said 8,241 or 72.28 percent passed the 2020 and 2021 Bar exams—761 were exemplary passers after getting a score of 85 to 90 percent while 14, who received grades higher than 90 percent, earned recognition for excellent performance.
Decisions that define lawyers
As NUPL expressed best wishes and congratulations to the law graduates who took the examinations, its president, lawyer Ephraim Cortez, hoped that their message could “attenuate the pressures that surely came with the many years of study and training that brought you to this moment.”
It stressed, however, that “we must always remember that the Bar exams is only a test, like most others,” saying that “prestigious though it may be, this exam will not define you either as individuals or as lawyers.”
“It is merely a door at the very end of a long and arduous passage that once opened, permits you into an expansive hall filled with opportunities and responsibilities,” NUPL said.
“What you do with these opportunities and responsibilities is entirely your choice, but it is that decision and not some test which will, at least in part, determine the roles for which you would be remembered.”
Last month, Vice President Sara Duterte expressed gratitude to the Public Attorney’s Office for “successfully delivering access to free legal counsel to 9.7 million indigent Filipinos.”
“I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone for their accomplishments in 2021. You surpassed your target cases handled, including appealed cases that were favorably disposed of and served 9.7 million Filipinos,” she said.
‘Serve the people’
As stressed by NUPL, the Philippines needs lawyers who are “eager to join the ranks of those who have devoted their lives to serving the people and fighting to bring about a just and humane society.”
This, as law is a profession “made noble not by the individual feats of its members but by its indispensable role in defending the truth, giving voice to the voiceless, and fighting for worthy causes.”
According to data from human rights group Karapatan as of June 2022, there are now 803 political prisoners in the Philippines as the crackdown on activists and the poor still persist with arrests on the basis of charges described by rights groups as “fabricated.”
Lawyer Edre Olalia, who is now the chairman of the NUPL, had said most of these cases are handled by lawyers of NUPL.
Through the years, NUPL has handled high-profile cases of rights abuses, like the ones filed against retired general Jovito Palparan, who was convicted in 2018 for the disappearance of activists Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan.
NUPL is likewise the legal counsel for overseas Filipino worker Mary Jane Veloso who is on the death row in Indonesia after she was arrested in 2010 for bringing in two kilos of heroin.
Veloso had said she had no knowledge of the illegal drugs she was carrying, insisting that the bag with the drugs had been given to her by recruiters who had already been sentenced to life in 2020.
“May this desire to be of service to others be the flame that drives you to overcome the obstacles ahead of you these next few days, and may that flame burn even brighter when you finally become lawyers,” NUPL said.
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