Citing academic freedom, Supreme Court declares PhiLSAT unconstitutional

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Citing academic freedom, Supreme Court declares PhiLSAT unconstitutional
In this Nov. 24, 2019 photo, law students and well-wishers are in a festive mood as they greet the 2019 bar examination finishers during the annual bar ops along España boulevard in Manila.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court declared the memorandum order of the Legal Education Board (LEB) requiring aspiring law students to take the Philippine Law Schools Admission Test (PhiLSAT) unconstitutional.

Last March, the SC issued a temporary restraining order against the LEB memo following petitions filed by a retired judge and a group of law students questioning its constitutionality.

In its decision released Tuesday, the high court upheld the jurisdiction of the LEB over legal education.

Citing RA 7662, or the Legal Education Reform Act of 1993, the court said the LEB has the power to set the standards of accreditation for law schools and to prescribe the minimum requirements for admission to law schools.

The SC, however, ruled that the requirement for students applying to law school to pass the PhiLSAT is unconstitutional for being "ultra vires" or in excess of what the law mandates.

Order violates academic freedom

The high court declared unconstitutional the LEB memo of "excluding, restricting and qualifying admissions to law schools in violation of the institutional academic freedom on who to admit."

The ruling also indicated that the LEB's act of dictating the qualifications and classification of faculty members and dean of law schools violate institutional academic freedom on who may teach.

The requirement for law students to undergo legal apprenticeship and legal internship programs was also declared unconstitutional as it violates institutional academic freedom on what to teach.

"When the PhiLSAT is used to exclude, qualify, and restrict admissions to law schools, as its present design mandates, the PhiLSAT goes beyond mere supervision and regulation, violates institutional academic freedom, becomes unreasonable and therefore, unconstitutional," the high court said.

While the SC acknowledged the need for reforms for a more responsive legal education in the country, it said the PhiLSAT is "not a perfect initiative."

"The flaws which the Court assessed to be unconstitutional are meanwhile removed, thereby still allowing the PhiLSAT to develop into maturity. It is, thus, strongly urged that recommendations on how to improve legal education, including tools for screening entrants to law school, reached possibly through consultative summits, be taken in careful consideration in further issuances or legislations," it said.

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