I will never be a physicist

Published March 19, 2019, 12:23 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



J. Art D. Brion (RET.)
J. Art D. Brion (RET.)20

I will never be a physicist for many reasons.  Foremost among them is my complete lack of aptitude and talent for the study of physics.  I would have been laughed out of the exam room had I then sought entry into this rarified field.

I don’t think I could have been a medical doctor either. For the medical profession also has an entrance exam that weeds out the fit from those who do not have the aptitude and the capability to be doctors. (I could not even finish 1st year of pre-med as I disliked zoology and cringed at the thought of dissecting a formalin-soaked frog or cat.)

Fortunately for medicine and for aspirants into the medical field (one of whom I could have been), no less than the Supreme Court has confirmed that the institutionalization of entrance exams to gain entry to medical studies is a valid exercise of the power of the State to regulate society for its own good.  Thus, aspirants for the medical field are now guided right from the start, or at least forewarned of what may not be for them.

This warning system, unfortunately, is not true in my own profession, the field of law, where the institutionalization of entrance exams to weed out the unqualified is currently still being examined by the Supreme Court.  This examination, again unfortunately, is not via an objective investigation of the merits and demerits of an entrance exam regime, but through the prism of legal and constitutional arguments in a case currently pending before the Court.

Due to this pending case, I dare not now comment on the merits or demerits of the petition before the court lest I be penalized for improperly  interfering in the performance of the court’s duties.  If I write this article nevertheless, my intent is not to argue the case nor to attempt to influence its pre-ordained path, but solely for the sake of the general public whose daily lives are touched by the law and by lawyers, and for the parents and the current and potential law students who, I believe, should be reminded of what law schools await them and what a law entrance exam can mean for them.

About 3 years ago while I was still with the court, I was given the honor and privilege of speaking before the whole court and the new lawyers during their oathtaking ceremony. I congratulated our new colleagues, all 1,732 of them, but I also expressed my sympathies for the 4,874 (or the 73.79%) who did not pass. I had to mention even the disappointed ones as, on the average, only one (1) out of four (4) examinees pass the Bar exams every year.

In that speech I raised the inevitable question of why we have very meagre passing rates in the Bar exams. I could only conclude in that formal occasion that the overwhelming number of failures stem from various roots and causes. Among those I mentioned were problems in legal education itself.

Many students, I said, should not have entered law school and should have gone to other fields where their talents are best fitted. Many who gained entry also soon discover that they lack the specific talent, patience, or perseverance required to handle legal studies (in the way I learned, by hard experience, that I could not handle physics or medicine.)  Many Bar examinees cannot even write passable English, the medium of communications in the courts and in the international arena where lawyers, both local and international, shall soon compete.

Many of our law schools are as unfit as their students – a double whammy that many parents and students may not perhaps realize. My indisputable supporting evidence is the Bar passing record of these non-performing law schools.

I said then and I quote now: “There are now one hundred forty (140) law schools in the country, up from one hundred and seven (107) law schools in 2007.  One hundred thirty (130) law schools fielded candidates in the 2015 Bar exams.  Of these, twenty eight (28) had a 0% passing rate, i.e., none of their Bar candidates passed.  Another twenty eight (28) law schools registered a passing rate of ten (10%) percent or less. Thus, of the 130 participating law schools, fifty-six (56) or 43% had passing rates of 10% or less…. In the best performers bracket, only three (3) law schools had passing rates of 70% and above, and only ten (10) law schools fell within the 50% to 69% category. Thus, of the 130 participating law schools in the 2015 Bar exams, only 13 law schools or 10% can say that half of their Bar candidates passed!”  This sad state has not significantly changed up to the present time.

I did not also flinch when I mentioned the Supreme Court itself as a possible cause of the problem; I encouraged the court to examine its Bar admission policies and even the Bar examination system itself. (Quite recently, I also expressed the view that the Legal Education Board (LEB) should be part of the judiciary, not of the CHED.)

Fortunately for the country, the LEB immediately responded through institutional corrective measures, among them the PhiLSAT – the law school entrance examination system that is now being questioned before the court.

As a sign of how bad the situation then was, the LEB started out by leaning backwards to accommodate law schools, giving them time and opportunity to adjust; it even had to lower the initial qualifying grade of 65% to a measly 45% to allow law schools a greater number of admissions.

Since then, the LEB has gone a long way in institutionalizing the PhiLSAT. It has ironed out many of the kinks that plagued the initial system and has now achieved a good measure of acceptance from the general public for the PhiLSAT as a nationwide law entrance exam system.

Truly, I would grieve for the wasted efforts and the opportunities to be lost if the court would now rule that the PhilSAT should be abolished, and if Congress will not soon act to remedy what I may already call a crisis in our legal education.

Of course, I cannot but bow to the inevitable if the Court, in its wisdom, rules that the entrance exam that is proper for the field of medicine is improper for the field of law.

Until then and whatever may happen, I shall continue to teach law and to prepare my students for the exciting life in the law that awaits those who have the qualifications, the patience, and the perseverance to undergo the rigors of legal studies.

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