Bar topnotcher didn't want to be a lawyer
- Delon Porcalla, Romel Bagares () - March 21, 2000 - 12:00am

Theirs is a story of love and triumph. For Florin Hilbay and his girlfriend, Karen Caparros, hurdling the Bar proved that they're really made for each other.

They are among the 16 percent or 660 of the 3,978 examinees who survived the Bar. Not only is their ordeal over; both of them also made it to the Top 10.

Hilbay, a University of the Philippines graduate, shares first place with Edwin Enrile from rival school Ateneo de Manila University. They scored 88.5 percent.

Caparros, also from UP, placed seventh with a score of 85.9 percent. Like her boyfriend, she shares the spot with an Atenean, Lourdes Echavez-de Leon.

Hilbay has another reason to celebrate. Last Sunday, when the Supreme Court finally released the Bar results after several days of delay, Hilbay was celebrating his birthday.

Ironically, the Bar first-placer never wanted to become a lawyer. The soft-spoken guy even has strong words to describe his new career.

"I hated lawyers because I thought that there was ample room for decency in the profession and that was not really addressed," Hilbay said. Now he is in a position to make a difference.

His girlfriend, on the other hand, knew what she wanted.

"I think it's a dream come true for my parents. My dad has always been telling me to take up law. But it was only in college when I decided to take up law. And there's no lawyer in the family yet," Caparros said.

Hilbay took up law because of peer pressure. Ten of his classmates in the University of Santo Tomas, where Hilbay took up AB economics before crossing over to UP, were very keen in taking up law. And they egged Hilbay to join them.

"Actually, sinabit lang nila ako (I was just a tag-along)," Hilbay recalled. As for them, he quickly added, "And I was the only one who passed."

Hilbay works as an underbar clerk at the office of Senior Supreme Court Justice Vicente Mendoza. Caparros is connected with the Sycip, Salazar, Hernandez and Gatmaitan Law Office. In her words, "One of the best law firms around."

Hilbay and Caparros, both 26, were classmates from the start of the course, belonging to Section B. When they graduated last year, Hilbay ranked 13th in his class; Caparros, 18th.

"Naging mag-on kami on December 1998. Nagustuhan ko siya dahil mabait siya. At hindi siya babaero (We became steady in Dec. 1998. I like him because he's kind and not a womanizer)," Caparros said with a chuckle. "He was not intimidated by a woman with a strong personality like me. That's why I got to like him."

As for the bespectacled Hilbay, Caparros's "beauty and brains" enchanted him.

They started out as friends while staying at the Ipil Dormitory on the 493-hectare campus.

"One night," Caparros told The STAR, "he invited me to see the Leonid meteor shower. That started it all."

Both said they gave their all in preparing for the exams. To ease the pressure, Hilbay listened to Mozart and Gregorian chants while reviewing.

"Classical music stimulates the brain," he explained, adding that he also spent at least an hour each day to meditate. "You have to be in control of your emotions, to be calm deep inside or you will lose your sanity."

Caparros read case books at least six hours a day, as against her boyfriend's five hours. "I occasionally danced all by myself to release the tension."

But they managed to make time for each other, usually on Wednesday to see a movie.

They said the Bar was one of the toughest, way off their expectations. The exam is supposed to test only if the examinees have acquired the basic skills required of lawyers, they explained. What they got was a battery of technical questions.

Caparros remembers her strength ebbing when the news came that the exam results were to be out Sunday night. "I just asked my brother to pick me up from the subdivision chapel and bring me home."

Hilbay was with his family at Robinsons Mall in Manila, also breathless with anticipation.

But as they sat beside each other yesterday at the Office of the Secretary of the College of Law, they looked every inch a happy, overwhelmed pair.

"He's been getting calls for interviews every so often," Caparros said with a half-smirk, referring to her boyfriend.

"For now I intend to remain in my low-paying job as a public servant," Hilbay said jokingly. Because of media requests for interviews, he had to delay for another day his joining Justice Mendoza in Baguio City for the Supreme Court's summer session.

"He called me up this morning to congratulate me and tell me I have to be up and working."

Meanwhile, the minority group in the House of Representatives filed a resolution yesterday calling for an immediate investigation on the alleged irregularities in the 1999 Bar exams.

In House Resolution 1461, the minority bloc headed by Rep. Feliciano Belmonte said a probe should be made now to clear the air following reports that a relative of the chairman of the Bar committee took the exam.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Fidel Purisima recently bowed out as chairman of the committee following his revelation that a nephew took the tests. His admission prompted the delayed release of exam results.

"The integrity of the results of the Bar exam always has a direct effect on the entire judicial system," the opposition said. --With Liberty Dones

BAGUIO CITY BAR CAPARROS COLLEGE OF LAW FELICIANO BELMONTE FOR FLORIN HILBAY GATMAITAN LAW OFFICE HILBAY HILBAY AND CAPARROS SUPREME COURT
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