Karen Mae Calam not at top of USC class but no. 1 in 2016 Bar

Topnotcher, also a CPA, dares to dream big and wins.  She offers victory to parents who missed out on higher education due to difficulties
By: - Senior Reporter / @inquirervisayas
/ 01:38 AM May 04, 2017
University of San Carlos in Cebu City (Photo contributed to the Inquirer by

University of San Carlos in Cebu City (Photo contributed to the Inquirer by

CEBU CITY — Karen Mae Calam was not among the top 10 law students at the University of San Carlos in this city but she admitted praying for a top 10 slot in the 2016 bar examinations.

“I prayed that I’ll be among the top 10 because you always aim to be on top. At least if you fail to be in the top 10, you would still have passed the exams,” she said, exhibiting the haggler’s attitude of always asking for something bigger than one’s real target.


“But I did not expect to be number one. To pass the Bar is enough,” she added.

Calam, also a certified public accountant, dedicated her success to her father, a former military man, and her mom who works as an administrative head in their hometown in Kalilangan town, Bukidnon.


“People in our place are afraid to dream big. In the province, education is not that big a priority. 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.

“Whatever they dream of, my sister (a doctor) and I are fullfilling it for them. I offer my achievements to them. This is my gift to my parents. I really don’t own all praises. It’s for my parents and God,” she added.

Calam said she would like to inspire people studying in public schools that they could be successful through hard work and prayer.

“It’s not impossible to have something as big as this. Even if you don’t want to become a lawyer, just never doubt yourself,” she said.

Will she now work in a big law firm?  Will she join the lucrative corporate law?  Surprisingly, Calam, who is set to marry another lawyer in August this year, said on Wednesday, that she has not decided where to use her sharp legal mind.

“I really have no particular plans yet. All I want to do now is to go to the Basilica del Sto. Niño and offer all prayers and thanksgiving to God,” she said.

But she hinted an openness to public service. “I cannot speak in behalf of all lawyers, but for me, the reason why you’re given the blessing to be a lawyer is to be able to help other people. Lawyering is not associated with money. There are those who understand that it’s about public service,” she added.


What’s her take on the surprising fact that not even one graduate from the top law schools in Manila got into the 2016 bar exams’ top 10?

“It’s how barristers answer and how the examiners appreciate the answer. For me, not one school owns the best. All I can say is there are brilliant people outside Metro Manila,” Calam said.

Her close friend Anne Margaret Momongan, also from USC, now works at the SGV accounting firm in Cebu City. They hugged each other and held in their arms an image of the Sto. Niño when they learned that both of them got into the top 10 of the bar exams.

Momongan, 29, said it had always been her dream to become a lawyer.

“It’s basically a childhood dream (especially because) there’s no lawyer in our family,” she said.

Momongan’s parents are both Commerce graduates. In 2009, she took and passed the licensure examination for certified public accountants (CPA).

She then decided to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer.

“The Bar exams were extremely difficult. Every Sunday, after the Bar, I would cry out of exhaustion. But I surrender everything to the Lord, and pray to the Lord,” she said.

“Every bar taker’s secret dream is to be on top. Of course, you don’t want to admit it because there’s even no assurance that you’ll pass. But I told the Lord that His will is always the best for me,” she added.

Another USC graduate, Jefferson Gomez, was ecstatic when he learned that he ranked eighth in the Bar exam.

“It was not an easy task. It was a long one. But as the result came out, it was all worth it. I am very thankful. It’s really a big thing for me to be in the top 10,” he told CDN.

The Cebu Daily News also contacted Fiona Lao, who ranked third, but she could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The Bar exam which is given for four Sundays, covers Political Law and Labor Law for the first Sunday, Civil Law and Taxation for the second Sunday, Mercantile Law and Criminal Law for the third Sunday and, Remedial Law and Legal Ethics and Practical Exercises for the last Sunday.

The oath-taking of the new lawyers will be on May 22 at 3 p.m. at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

Calam’s victory at the 2016 Bar examinations is a historic first for a Cebu law school

With a rating of 89.05 percent, Calam, 30, clinched the top spot in one of the toughest licensure examinations in the country and the most glorified.

The 30-year-old law graduate was joined by three other Carolinians in the top 10.

Lao placed third, Momongan ranked seventh, while Jefferson Gomez secured the eighth spot.

Alanna Gayle Ashley Khio of Silliman University got the second place.

In an unprecedented turnout, all topnotchers came from provincial law schools, taking the limelight away from Metro Manila-based schools which usually dominated the Bar exams.

It was a sweet feat for USC which has produced at least 25 bar topnotchers since the university opened its College of Law in 1937, but had never taken the top spot until Wednesday.

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 four other Carolinians in the top 10,” she told CDN over the phone.

Largo was attending a seminar in Tagaytay when the result of the Bar exams was announced at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

USC, the oldest university in Cebu and one of the top performing law schools in the country, also earned another feather on its cap when all of its 70 bar examinees passed.

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

“It is also an affirmation that quality education can be had in USC and Cebu. Hardwork truly pays off and what a gift this has been for USC Law’s diamond year as a college,” the energetic law dean added.

Calam bested the record set by another USC alumnus, Athena Plaza, who ranked second in the 2015 Bar examinations, and former Cebu governor and congressman Pablo Garcia, who ranked third in the 1951 Bar exams although the latter’s rating, 91.5 percent – remained the number to beat in the school’s history.

A total of 3,747 out of 6,344 examinees passed the Bar exams held at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in all Sundays of November last year.

The 2016 exams registered a passing rate of 59.06 percent.

The performance of Calam and the three other USC graduates continued the trend in recent years of a Cebu law school making it to the top 10 in the Bar exams.

Calam thanked God for her stunning performance in the 2016 Bar exams. She said that after all the hard work, she had entrusted to God her performance in the test.

“God is just so amazing and merciful. He gave me beyond what I prayed for,” said the 2016 Bar topnotcher, a devotee of the Sto. Niño de Cebu, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Jude Thaddeus, Padre Pio, and Archbishop Teofilo Camomot.  SFM/rga

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TAGS: 2016 bar examinations, Anne Margaret Momongan, bar examinations, Fiona Cristy Lao, Jefferson Gomez, Karen Mae Calam, law, lawyers, licensure examination, Philippine Bar, Supreme Court, University of San Carlos
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