April 04, 2008

Intergenerational courtesy and hubris

I did not land in the top ten when I took the bar in 1990; nor did I land in the top twenty (I know because the first 20 names in our batch were published). That does not make or unmake me, as a lawyer or as a person.

My batch did not have the benefit (or stigma?) of having our passing average adjusted upward by means of across-the-board points or having the 75% average required to pass the bar lowered or the 50% disqualification per subject lowered. That does not make or unmake my batch, as lawyers or as persons.

My having failed to land in the top 20 does not make me a success or a failure--as a lawyer or as a person. It only credentials me as one who was fortunate or blessed enough to pass, based on the standards of that year.

My batch's distinction of not having adjustments to the passing grade does not make my batch better or worse than any other batch. It just makes it a fact that no adjustments were made for that year.

The bar examinations are a test of a particular batch's entitlement to join the legal profession based on the standards of the Examination Committee for a particular year. It is not a standard for all generations, nor for all time. It is a standard only for a particular year because every year the standards change with the selection of a new Chairperson and the selection of new examiners.

Thus, one batch is not necessarily better or worse than another as each batch can only be compared to itself (if that is at all possible, factually and logically). That is the design of the bar examinations; each year's bar is sui generis. (Is this a flawed design? Yes. Would I want it changed? Yes. But that is fodder for another post, another occasion.)

So, all the buzz and the heat generated by a rather insensitive blog post by a lawyer who has yet to identify him/herself by the name he signed on the roll is quite understandably being passionately dissected by this year's bar passers.

I say it is insensitive because the post essentially blacklists this year's batch of passers and brands them as "second rate" and "unworthy" lawyers simply because the Supreme Court chose to lower the average--sight unseen. The lawyer blogger chooses to tar everyone with the same brush and writes off this year's batch as unworthy of his attention or employment.

I do not know if the blogger/lawyer (whose blog links to this site) teaches. I do. I taught this batch from U.P. And I know these people very well--personally; with the exception of a handful (and my hands are very small, so it is a very small handful), I can say at least one fact about each of them that a casual acquaintance would not know. I can speak of how good or bad they were in class and also in court, having supervised them through the clinical legal education program.

I can speak of how passionate they can get over trivial and non-trivial things. I have seen how intense they have gotten over issues. I have seen many of them in court, I have read their pleadings, I have corrected their work, I have graded them many times over. Yes, I can speak, from personal knowledge, of this batch and I choose not to write them off because I know better--than to write them off.

I only teach law at U.P. so I cannot speak, from personal knowledge, of passers from other law schools because I do not know better. And for that same reason, I choose not to write them off as unworthy or second rate simply because I also do not know better.

And that is, as De Quiros puts it, "the rub."

Blogger/lawyer chooses to write off an entire batch without knowing the ENTIRE BATCH of bar passers; s/he chooses to dismiss them without the benefit of having seen some or most of them in class or in court; s/he chooses to stigmatize the batch for something they had absolutely no hand in--the lowering of the average.

Would this batch have preferred not to have the grades lowered so that only 5% would have passed? I do not know; perhaps some would have, some wouldn't.

What I do know is that they had no hand in having the grade lowered and to stigmatize them for something the Court did, apparently motu propio, is uncalled for and is foul.

And to cast aspersions, by way of asking rhetorical questions--as blogger/lawyer does in his post, as to the supposed influence exerted by some powerful quarters is quite simply cheap. That is something gutter journalists do, in the absence of something significant to write--not one who has passed the bar and would evidently have such high standards that s/he would not hire anyone from this batch. As far as the new U.P. lawyers are concerned, it is blogger/lawyer's loss--not theirs.

I am not picking a fight with blogger/lawyer. Those who passed this year have already thrown down the gauntlet and they, more than anyone else, can speak for themselves quite eloquently and well.

I simply want to say, from the vantage point of one who passed the bar many years ago under very different conditions than this year, that it is sheer hubris and unmitigated arrogance for one to sit in judgment simply on the basis of the past and without knowing better.

Hegel (and Sting) remind us that the best lesson we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history; many times, however, when we live too much in the past and reflect too much on history, we also end up not learning anything about the present.


Inez Togle said...


It really is incredibly unfair to be branded as part of a "tarnished batch" because of something that we did not do. He passed judgment on all of us, without even knowing what we are capable of. How ignorant of him to judge 1,200 people on the basis of ONE government exam. How quickly he has forgotten that grades are not all that makes a person or a lawyer. Then again, maybe he never learned that.

If he doesn't hire any of us, okay lang. Hindi naman kami ang kawawa eh.

Before that blogger/lawyer wrote anything, he should have first taken that exam with us and had his booklets graded by the same set of examiners. Then we'll see if he would pass "way above 75%".

Sir, once again, you have become our champion, and for this we all thank you.

UP 2007

Grace said...

Amen to that, Sir. Thank you.

Sir, may I repost this on my blog?

Ted said...


of course.

- Ted

incarnadine29 said...

Thank you Sir!

I would have wanted to say my piece and spit out all sorts of invectives at this ignoramus who had the audacity to call us a "tarnished" batch, but I figured he isn't worth my time and effort. Besides, you, Inez and a lot of other people voiced out my exact thoughts and feelings. Unlike that person, I'd much rather devote my energies to practicing my profession nobly.

Rafael said...


I don't know you personally (to my regret), but you've taught many of my friends in U.P. Law. As a 2007 bar taker (and passer) I just would like to express my deepest appreciation for this eloquent piece. I had wanted to make my own response to the "Punzi" blog, but I was hoping that hands more articulate than mine craft the resounding rebuttal that his blog entry so obviously deserved. And indeed, your *small* hands have lifted the huge stigma that "Punzi" unfairly laid upon the shoulders of Batch 2007.

If I felt angry while reading the "Punzi" blog, I felt vindicated when I read yours.

As someone commented already, thank you for championing us.

Rafael Christopher L. Yap
Ateneo - 2007

vanilla chocnut said...

i've heard negative comments re. the lowering of the passing rate even before that blog entry came out. it has only been a week, and people are already trying to bring us down. i guess criticism is something we have to live with in this profession.

anyway, thank you so much sir for posting this and for continuously supporting us. :)

- lianne

Kutapio said...

As someone from the opposite side of the tracks (bar-flunker of 2003), let me second everyone who has commended thus far by saying that indeed each Bar exam is quite a unique animal by and in itself.

Food for thought: I submit that year after year, promulgation after promulgation, it has been harder and harder for a student of he law to master it. What with the ever growing case studies, the swaying of opinions penned by hands changing year after year.

Kudos to those who have made it and better luck next time to those who have not.

Anonymous said...

I discovered just over a month ago that the personal data sheet required for government appointments, including the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals requires the applicant to indicate his or her bar/board exam grade without qualification.

I do agree that each batch is different, and that the 2007 examinees should not be stigmatized simply because a number of the examiners chose to be unreasonably strict. My bar exam grade is higher that the grades of the bar topnotchers of the last two years - yet, I don't feel that I am better, only that those batches may have taken more difficult exams or that their examiners were abnormally strict.

2007's examinees can hold their head high - they're not inferior to any batch. If any they passed the proverbial eye of a needle.

Ted said...

@Rafael Christopher Yap, Esq.

You're quite welcome. It's good to hear from the best law school in Makati on this. Congratulations on passing the bar; see you around.

- Ted

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

I got curious about this Punzi, so I checked the blog today, and I found his latest entry: http://thepunziblog.blogspot.com/2008/04/what-little-research-can-do.html#comments, which reeks of malice and ill-will. I could not resist but write a comment. I know that you've been defending us, your students, for so long, and I hope that Punzi accepts my comment so that I could now return the favor and defend you (though I know you don't need defending). :)



Ted said...

Hi Joan,

He probably wouldn't--mukhang pikon ang mama. He's not worth the time, really. Sumikat lang siya lalo, that's why I never linked to his blog and had never read him until his insensitive post. Wonder which professor is his law partner.

Tells you a lot though about how secure he is--when he trumpets his achievements on his blog and when he name drops like anything. I'll stop here, I've wasted too much time on his as it is but just wanted to acknowledge your post.


Anonymous said...

Veering away from personal attacks here's one from Atty. Fred Pamaos' Blog, there are about a thousand comments on the 2007 bar exams, and this was one of those comments (the SC should really study VV Mendoza's suggested reforms and move over to multiple choice type exams):

"I am disturbed by the Supreme Court’s act of increasing the passing rate from 5% to 22%.

Why 22%, why not peg the passing rate for 2007 to the lowest rate in the last 10 years? If the reports in the newspapers are true, this represents an increase of over 300%!

In the Sunday Inquirer issue that included the list of bar passers, the Supreme Court defended its decision to increase the passing rate by stating that some of the examiners were unusually strict in explaining the process at which the high court arrived at a conclusion that the examiners were exceptionally exacting this year. Not necessarily true.

A low passing rate means one of two things: 1) that the examiners were unreasonably strict;or 2) that the exams were exceptionally difficult or 3) that the quality of law graduates has deteriorated.

The only way to determine the cause of the high failure rate between these propositions is to scientifically test the hypothesis. If the examiners were strict or the tests difficult, this would have been readily determined by pretesting the questions and determining the level of difficulty of the questions.

If, for reasons of confidentiality pretesting is not acceptable and unavailing, then a post test by educational testing experts should have been conducted, the experts would be able to conclude - using scientific acoutrements of the testing trade- whether the hypotheses “the examiners were unnecessarily strict” was a valid one. If not, the low passing rate could be blamed on the other major possible reason, the deterioration in the quality of law schools, a problem that is not addressed by increasing the passing rate from 5% to 22%.

Without using widely available methods of scientific testing, the Supreme Court’s conclusion that the examiners were exceptionally strict this year has no basis and is what the SC itself would call in many cases, speculative. What it did was to use a bare allegation to justify a tectonic shift from a 5% passing rate to a 300% rate. What was the basis for the cutoff?

More disturbing is this: the PDI reported in its front page article on the 2007 bar exams this year that the scions of a number of judicial (including the SC’
s Justice Presbiterio Velasco) and political figures took the exam. IF THE PROFESSIONAL REGULATION COMMISSION (PRC) CONDUCTED A BOARD EXAM AND RAISED THE PASSING PERCENTAGE 300% THIS WOULD HAVE CREATED A MASSIVE WAVE OF PROTESTS. If, for example the Board of Nursing conducted the nursing boards and two of its members had inhibited, but the remaining members of the Board decided to increase the passing rate from 5% to 22%, they would have been investigated. All of us are human, and it is human nature to be sympathetic to the sons and daughters of colleagues, even if these colleagues themselves inhibited. The inhibition by Justice Ericta in the bar exams of 1982 did not prevent the bar scandal of that year. I do not think this was the SC’s motivation, and it would be best, to preserve the integrity of this grand institution, to see if Justice Velasco’s son, and those mentioned in the Inquirer Article, actually benefitted from the increase in the passing rate. The Court must be holier than Ceasar’s wife at all times.

Scientific testing of the basis of the Court’s decision to increase the passing rate is absolutely necessary in another vein. As the highest arbiter of law under the Constitution, the Supreme Court cannot be seen as being arbitrary. The honorable court would escape such suspicions if it has a properly determined basis for increasing the passing rate, one not grounded in the realm of speculation. Besides, if by educational testing parameters, it is determined that the reason for the low rate is the quality of schools, this would aid the court immensely in one of its major functions: the supervision of the practice of law, including legal education.

The 1987 Constitution allows the Court to look into cases where any branch or officer acted in grave abuse of discretion amounting to a lack or excess of jurisdiction. While the court has the prerogative to increase the passing rate, this prerogative is not absolute. There must be a basis. There are established scientific standard long used in the US Bar Examinations, in the LSAT and in other tests all over the world to determine the quality and validity of testing methods and the checking of examination. The exercise of a prerogative requires a standard. However, since the SC is the highest arbiter of these questions? Who is to determine whether or not the SC acted reasonable or arbitrarily in exercising its prerogatives over this year’s bar exams?"

The blog comments on Atty. Pamaos blog are constructive, not 2007 whiny bar passers who want a little sympathy and company, not irate lawyers who are quick to stigmatize this year's passers - but real suggestions about avoiding 2007 type scenarios and the impossibility of correcing 5000 plus bluebooks.