'I didn't favor anybody'

- Delon Porcalla, Aurora Alambra -

BAGUIO CITY -- Embattled Supreme Court Justice Fidel Purisima, the ousted chairman of the panel that prepared last year's Bar, said he did not leak the test questions to help anyone pass the exam.

"I did not do anything to favor anybody. I did not leak information to anybody. I don't want to destroy myself after so many years in public service," he told a press conference here where the tribunal is in summer session.

"Imagine the slap on my face if I did that, that would be the worst culmination of my 52 years in service," he said.

Purisima is under fire for belatedly revealing to the high tribunal that a nephew of his took the exams, claiming that he learned about it too late. He added that he has yet to even meet his nephew.

In an unprecedented move during the March 16 deliberations on the exams' passing rate, the court en banc decided to relieve Purisima after his disclosure came too late in the day.

His nephew, Mark Anthony Purisima, is not in the list of successful examinees. He is the son of Purisima's brother, former judge Amante Purisima.

The justices have decided to withhold the nephew's test results pending an investigation by the court's Committee of Peers, chaired by former justice Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera with retired justices Camilo Quiason and Jose Feria as members.

There is an unwritten rule in the judiciary that, on the basis of delicadeza, the chairman of the Bar committee should inhibit himself from heading the committee if and when a relative of his takes the examinations. Otherwise it would harm the integrity of the exams.

Purisima said he was not involved in the checking of the tests.

"I just decided to inhibit myself from the decoding and release which is the crucial aspect," he said. "I never told them how to correct. I just wanted it to be speedy so that it could be released sooner to give more time to those who will not make it to immediately study for the next bar examinations."

But contrary to his explanation before the court, Purisima told reporters yesterday that he first learned of his nephew's taking the bar "sometime in August last year," during the 70th birthday party of his elder brother Amante in Quezon City.

Purisima said he was asked this question during the gathering. "Hindi ba pangit na may kamag-anak kang kukuha ng exams kung ikaw ang chairman?"

Nonetheless he still defended his position in not telling the high tribunal last January, saying he "didn't want to delay the release of the bar results" because he wanted to go down in history as the bar chairman who "released the results the earliest."

Bar results are usually released in April.

"I felt that there's nothing a chairman could do anymore. I was so engrossed with my work as chairman of the committee. I was afraid that it could only delay the release. I don't think that the integrity of the SC was tarnished," he said.

A highly-reliable source revealed that Purisima will probably have to resign before his scheduled retirement on Oct. 28.

The source also said that Purisima's colleagues have agreed in principle to "impose sanctions" on him, which will most likely be a "forfeiture of his retirement benefits," in effect forcing him to resign.

The Supreme Court, in Baguio for its summer session, may also reprimand him or forfeit his P500,000 money for chairing the bar exams panel.

"I feel deserving to continue serving my full term. All these years I have not been administratively charged for malfeasance, misfeasance or any other irregularity. I deserve to continue my term until October," Purisima said.

Purisima, 69, an appointee of former President Fidel Ramos, may have to lose at least P5 million in benefits if he does not step down early. He will be held administratively liable for violating judicial ethics and impropriety.

The source said Purisima's colleagues were disgusted over how he concealed the fact about his nephew.

If ever, this will be the second time that a jurist will be forced to resign for impropriety.

That first was Justice Hugo Gutierrez in the early 1990s. Experts from the National Bureau of Investigation found out that one his decisions was prepared by a PLDT lawyer, one of the litigants in the case.

As Bar committee chairman, Purisima said the first thing he did was choose eight "competent and experienced" examiners, some of them former justices or bar topnotchers.

He asked them to submit 50 questions each. Purisima then chose the "appropriate" questions, typing these himself inside his bedroom. He asked his son and daughter-in-law to have the questionnaires printed at a secret place.

Aside Purisima's belated admission, the failure of the examination committee to agree on the passing rate, delayed the release of the bar results.

Only 660 of the 3,978 examinees passed. Because of the small number of examinees that pass the bar yearly, Makati Rep. Joker Arroyo said yesterday in an interview that law schools must impose a screening process before they can allow students to take up law.

That way they can determine, he said, if the applicant has what it takes to pass the bar.

"Year in and year out we witness this high mortality rate. Law is not only a difficult course but a long and expensive one. One has to have a four-year bachelor's degree before he can be admitted to a law school where he has to spend another four years to complete the course," Arroyo said.

"Imagine the money and time that had been spent by the candidates who flunked and whose careers in law have been ruined."

This year's number of successful bar examinees is said to one of the lowest in the history of the Bar. "Only 17 percent of the Bar examinees passed or only 17 out of every 100 candidates passed the Bar. The inevitable conclusion is that the overwhelming majority of the bar examinees were not fit to take the Bar exams," Arroyo said.

"A formula can be devised so that only those with the potential for passing the bar exams four years hence will be admitted," he said.

That way, it would save the student the time, money and toil that he can use for studying something else.

"That would be fair even to those who are not admitted to take up law because they can shift to other professions where their talents are more attuned," Arroyo added. - WithLiberty Dones











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