Saturday, June 23, 2018
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The problem with being reasonable

12:16 AM May 15, 2017

I am probably in the minority here, and may be putting myself at risk of being declared persona non grata by my own colleagues in the legal profession. But before we celebrate the success of a record-setting number of passers in last year’s bar examination, where, based on official results, roughly six out of ten candidates made it, I am having second thoughts about accepting the explanation that this batch had benefited from the more “reasonable” manner the answers to the bar examination questions were graded.

The term “reasonable” was meant to obviate making the impression that the last bar examination was easy, and I appreciate that. By all means, we shouldn’t take anything away from the examinees, and this includes avoiding suggestions that would seem to underestimate the magnitude of their accomplishment. However, the Supreme Court’s explanation along the “being reasonable” line tends to elicit exactly that kind of thinking, and invites legitimate questions. For instance, was that an implied admission that in the past, the bar examination’s grading system had been unreasonable?

If that is the case, should we now accept as normal the seeming inconsistency in the system of grading the bar examinations—that sometimes it is all right to be reasonable and sometimes it is not? And since no one can predict exactly when the system would choose to take the reasonable tack, do we now accept as a fact of life the inconsistency which, in the past, the policymakers had been working so hard to move heaven and earth to eliminate?


My understanding is that this element of consistency is the one thing the bar had desperately aspired to achieve and maintain over the years—and for good reason, which basically is to be fair to everybody, to have a semblance of assurance that all new lawyers who are sworn in year after year have survived the same rite of passage and that they have been measured according to the same standards as the oldtimers from many generations ago.

The worst that could happen is to institutionalize the seasonal tendencies of our grading system to adopt a so-called reasonable treatment of the bar candidates. This would encourage desperate bar takers to gamble and speculate, to ask the fortune-tellers in Quiapo to predict the next time the gods of the bar examinations would lapse into a reasonable mood, translating into a high passing percentage.

I know someone who had taken the two previous bar examinations prior to the last one, and not making the grade in both tries by the tiniest fractions of a point. Last year was supposed to be his third attempt, but due to financial reasons he did not take the plunge. I cannot imagine his anguish in the aftermath, when the high passing percentage was confirmed upon the release of the examination results. I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes, or I might go crazy wondering endlessly and torturing myself with the what-ifs and the what-could-have-beens.

I have no problem with people being reasonable; it is always a good thing to be. But there are times when we have to be reasonable and consistent, instead of being just reasonable. It should be obvious to everybody by now just how much the bar candidates invest into their dream, which means everything they have including their own lives. If you ask me, we should just leave them on their own to pass or fail, to live or die in the pursuit of their dream, without intervention and regardless of the times being right to be reasonable.

Adel Abillar is a private law practitioner with a small office in Quezon City where, he says, “I alternate between being boss and messenger.”

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