EXPLAINER. What SC still has to decide on 2020-2021 bar exams in Cebu City: site, form of tests, security.

Pachico A. Seares
·3 min read

WHAT WE KNOW has been decided and will stand unless there is a strong reason for the Supreme Court to change its mind:

[1] The next bar examinations, for both 2020 and 2021, will be held in Manila and Cebu City in November next year. The SC in a resolution announced last August 13 the amendment of the Rules of Court to hold the 2021 bar exams not just in Manila but also in Cebu City. An examinee may take the test in either site. Increase in fees to cover cost of the regional exams will be announced later.

[2] Venue in Manila will be University of Sto. Tomas campus along España St., Sampaloc. The site in Cebu City still has to be picked. The SC in its resolution said that will be done "once travel restrictions are lifted."

[3] SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, chairman of the 2020/2021 bar, said last September 24 the exams will be "digital but proctored," a mix, he said, of online and written exams." Examinees will get the specifics of the format once the SC approves recommendations of the bar committee. Leonen told 2019 lawyers at their oath-taking last September 24, "(The bar) won't be as it was before." Clue: It will be like the online bar exams adopted by some states in the US.

REMOTE, IN-PERSON. For some time now, there has been debate in the US on the wisdom of holding remote bar exams, against the traditional in-person tests.

As in the US, security is the primary reason for reluctance of our Supreme Court to hold regional exams, which necessarily requires use of digital devices for transmission of text questions and/or taking the test itself. The bar is not invulnerable to leakage; it would be more open to attack if it is conducted online.

Clamor for the Cebu site "manifested early," said the SC resolution, which the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter, led by president Regal M. Oliva, posted on Facebook Wednesday (October 28). The high court recognized, including it as a "Whereas" in the document, the role of the chapter in proposing in 2002 the holding of bar exams in Cebu City.

CREDITED FOR THE MOVE. The SC resolution cited the entities and persons, other than Cebu City IBP, that prompted the decision to open a bar exams site in the region:

-- The president of the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS), whose proposal was noted by the high court in 2009.

-- City councils of Talisay City and Mandaue City that proposed in 2011 resolutions for Cebu City to be a bar exams site for Visayas and Mindanao.

-- Retired Court of Appeals Justice Portia Alino-Hormachuelos whose 2016 proposal for Cebu City as site the SC approved on condition that at least 1,000 candidates would take the bar in this city. Less than that number expressed interest but the SC accepted Hormachuelos's explanation of "inadequate time" and the "distance among provinces" for the survey to be completed.

-- The law schools association PALS whose survey in 2016 among the law deans expressed support to the proposal.

Based on the SC resolution, the clamor for the Cebu City site started almost two decades ago and was acted upon by the high court only this year.

STAKES IN CEBU PROJECT. AJ Leonen, chairman for the 2020-2021 exams, said he has been consulting with his counterparts for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 bar.

Implying that if next year's virgin sally into Cebu City succeeds, presumably on number of examinees and the conduct of the tests, it will be repeated here or even expanded to other key areas in the following years. The SC has aimed that reforms in the qualifying test be "safe, effective and equitable."

Interest of Cebu City and similar regional communities in holding exams outside Manila is that it will reduce expenses of individual examinees and the stress of staying in the capital city for the review and the actual bar.