‘Imperial Manila’ loosens hold on ‘top 10’ in bar examinations

MAY 03, 2017 Crowd views projected list of the examinees who passed the 2016 Bar Examination from grounds of the Supreme Court in Manila. PHOTO/LYN RILLON

Crowd views projected list of the examinees who passed the 2016 Bar Examination from grounds of the Supreme Court in Manila. PHOTO/LYN RILLON

The hold of “Imperial Manila” law schools on the bar exams has loosened.

For the first time, all topnotchers of the 2016 bar exams came from law schools outside Metro Manila, shutting out graduates of the University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo de Manila University, which perennially dominated the Top 10 in previous exams.


Moreover, only two of the 12 who landed in the Top 10 were from law schools in Luzon, as the rest came from those in the Visayas and Mindanao.

“All I can say is there are brilliant people outside Metro Manila.” said Karen Mae Calam of the University of San Carlos (USC), who clinched the top spot, when asked why not one of the examinees from Manila-based law schools landed in the Top 10.


“It’s how barristers answer and how the examiners appreciate the answer. For me, not one school owns the best,” added Calam, who got a rating of 89.05 percent.

8 women topnotchers

The 30-year-old topnotcher hails from Kalilangan town, Bukidnon province, and is one of the eight female examinees who made it to the Top 10.

A total of 3,747 out of 6,344 examinees hurdled the bar exams held at the University of Santo Tomas last November—a passing rate of 59.06 percent, up from 26.21 percent the previous year.

“I congratulate and doff my hat to the … successful candidates,” said Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. at noon before a crowd of about 500 who gathered at the Supreme Court grounds.

Velasco, a UP law graduate, said the 59.06 percent passing rate in the 2016 bar exams was the highest since the high court imposed a 75-percent passing grade and the second highest after the 75.17 recorded passing rate in 1954, which set a lower passing mark.

A graduate of a Cebu law school topping the 2016 bar exams was also a first.


Calam was joined by three other USC graduates in the Top 10—Fiona Cristy Lao placed third; Anne Margaret Momongan, seventh;  and Jefferson Gomez, eighth.

Three from Silliman

In Dumaguete City, residents filled social media pages with congratulatory messages for the three topnotchers from Silliman University and other passers.

It was the first time for Silliman University to have three bar topnotchers: 2nd placer Alana Gayle Ashley Khio, 9th placer Marie Chielo Ybio, and 10th placer Andrew Stephen Liu.

Lawyer Joan Largo, dean of USC, was ecstatic when she learned  about the results of the bar exams. “I’m overjoyed by the fact that we have clinched the top spot with [three] other Carolinians in the Top 10,” said Largo.

USC also earned another feather on its cap when all of its 70 bar examinees passed.

Hard work

“This is a validation of all the hard work, passion and dedication of our professors, students and administrators of USC,” Largo said.

Calam thanked the Lord for her feat. “He gave me beyond what I prayed for,” said the bar topnotcher.

Calam, an accountant, dedicated her success to her father, a former soldier, and to her mother, an administrative head in their hometown in Bukidnon.

“People in our place were afraid to dream big … It’s really just about everyday living. My parents wanted it for themselves but were not able to achieve it due to some reasons,” she said. “This is my gift to my parents.”

Getting married

Calam, who is set to be married to another lawyer in August, said she had no idea yet as to what particular career she would pursue.

For her, lawyering is not associated with money but with being  able to help other people.

Her close friend Momongan now works at SGV Accounting Firm in Cebu City. They both hugged each other and held in their arms an image of the Sto. Niño when they learned that both of them were in the Top 10.

Momongan, 29, said it was her dream to become a lawyer because there was “no lawyer in our family.”

Another USC graduate was ecstatic when he learned that he ranked eighth in the bar exam. “I am very thankful,” Gomez said.

Cloud 9 in Silliman

Shiela Lynn Catacutan-Besario, dean of the Silliman University College of Law, said the whole Silliman community was on cloud nine. She said what Silliman did differently for this batch of barristers was the introduction of mock bar exams.

Second placer Khio will get a brand-new car from lawyers Frank and Whelma Yap, both alumni of the Silliman University College of Law.

Khio is also guaranteed $4,000, while 9th placer Ybio and 10th placer Liu will receive $2,000 each from US-based Silliman alumni Dr. Rolando V. del Carmen and his wife Erlyn.

Athalia Liong, who placed third, is a 31-year old mother of three girls from Dipolog City. “It’s just amazing,” Liong said in an online interview as she was at Hong Kong Disneyland celebrating her youngest daughter’s fourth birthday.

Inspired by father

“It was always my dream and passion to be a lawyer as I was inspired by my father who was a human rights lawyer,” she said. She entered law school at the Andres Bonifacio College in Dipolog in 2012, a year after her father died.

For ninth-placer Nia Rachell Gonzales, 29, finally being called “attorney” was a dream come true, not for her, but for her father.

Gonzales lost her mother when she was 10. Her father, Edgardo Mendoza, single-handedly raised her and her three siblings. Gonzales, a mother of two, studied law at University of Batangas. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARRAH ERIKA RABE AND YUJI VINCENT GONZALES

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