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Province-based law schools strut their stuff

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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

Province-based law schools strut their stuff

Law schools in the provinces trounced their “elite” counterparts in Metro Manila in the recent bar examinations. It was a total rout that has never happened in the past.

In all previous bar examinations, Metro Manila law schools consistently dominated the top 10 passers, and it was a rare occasion for province-based school graduates to make it to the top rankings. It was an outright reversal of fortunes this time around.

All the examinees who placed in the top 10 came from schools outside of the capital city. Eight are from schools based in the Visayas—four from the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, three from Silliman University in Dumaguete City, and one from San Agustin University in Iloilo City. Two are from Mindanao—one from Ateneo de Davao University in Davao City, and one from Andres Bonifacio College in Dipolog City.

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Only two schools from Luzon survived the blitzkrieg of the southern islands, with one each from the University of Batangas in Batangas City and Northwestern University in Laoag City.

The top-ranked schools in Metro Manila, such as the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and San Beda College, were stunned at the failure of even just one of their graduates to land in the mythical top 10.

The reactions from the top-ranked schools were a mixture of snobbery, insinuations of leakage, and the invention of a comical tale. Rumors flew fast that the examiners all agreed to give generous points even for answers that are not entirely accurate, for as long as the examinee is able to articulate a justification for his or her argument—and this liberal approach purportedly favored examinees from the provinces. Rumors also spread thick of the occurrence of a leakage of questions that supposedly benefited schools mostly outside of Metro Manila. A concocted tale was even widely circulated that the questions were written in Bisaya, which explains the dominance of Bisaya-speaking examinees of the south.

Manila-based schools cite the near-perfect passing performance of all their graduates as the more important reflection of the excellent education they provide. It is true that the overall performance of a law school’s total graduates is the better gauge of quality education. But many schools from the provinces were not far behind in terms of the percentage of their total graduates who passed, with some of them reportedly yielding results higher than a number of Metro Manila law schools.

The Metro Manila law schools are scrambling to find a quirky reason to explain the oddity of what has just happened, by way of affirming belief in their continuing superiority over province-based schools. But the schools in the capital city must face up to the reality that province-based schools are catching up or have finally caught up in terms of the quality of the legal education they provide.

The excellent performance of province-based schools is made even more impressive if we consider the disadvantages endured by their students. Province-based law students are mostly working students who juggle the demands of work and school, unlike privileged Metro Manila students who mostly study full time. Province-based law students are mostly taught by general practitioners, unlike their Metro Manila counterparts who are tutored by specialists in the law fields that they teach.

It will be interesting to find out what has brought about the exceptional performance of province-based law schools and the muted showing of Metro Manila schools. Were the questions less focused on testing rote memorization of law and jurisprudence? Were the examiners more attentive to answers that revealed an examinee’s inculcated ability to either plant or harvest the seed of justice in every case problem that was presented?

It bodes well for the legal profession, and our society in general, for the new breed of lawyers to be tested and found worthy in their ability to apply a kernel of fairness, a morsel of common sense, and a grain of justice in every conceivable problem of humankind.

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