Bar exams in a pandemic: No Bar Ops, regular COVID-19 testing, early quarantine

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Bar exams in a pandemic: No Bar Ops, regular COVID-19 testing, early quarantine
The Supreme Court held a mock digitalized Bar examinations on Sunday, January 31. The test was conducted in four venues: Baguio, Makati, Cebu, Davao.
Screenshot / SC PIO livestream

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court on Tuesday released its guidelines for the historic 2020/21 Bar Examinations, the first digital and localized test for aspiring lawyers in the Philippines.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, 2020/221 Bar examinations chairperson, released a 14-page Bar Bulletin on Tuesday, detailing omnibus guidelines for the exams where examinees are required to follow stringent health protocols and undergo COVID-19 testing — the cost of which would depend on the taker’s vaccination status.

The Bar exams will be held in at least 29 local testing centers on January 16, 23, 30 and February 6, 2022.

Leonen urged examinees to undergo self-quarantine two weeks before the first Bar Sunday or starting Jan. 2, 2022 and to limit non-essential movement.

Citing strict health measures to be implemented during the test, the Bar chair also said examinees and personnel will also be asked to sign a waiver releasing the SC and the local testing center of liability if they contract COVID-19 during any of the four Sundays of the Bar “as it will be presumed prima facie that they were negligent in adhering to these protocols.”

External Bar-related activities such as the "bar operations" are banned outside and within the security perimeter of the local testing center. The court has warned examinees that they may be barred from taking the test "if it is later known that ‘bar operations’ activities were conducted by their law school in the hotel they are staying."

Free antigen test for vaxxed examinees

Fully vaccinated examinees are required to present their vaccination cards and antigen test results administered within 48 hours before the start of the examinations.

The SC will also provide free antigen testing for examinees.

“Antigen testing of vaccinated examinees will be done Friday and Saturday prior to the Sunday exams at the site designated by the Office of the Bar Chairperson. Scheduling will be sent to each examinee’s email address by the Area Team Leaders of the local testing center to which the examinee is assigned,” it added.

Vaccinated examinees may opt to take their antigen test in other Department of Health-accredited testing facility, 48 hours before the exams, but the cost will not be reimbursed.

Unvaccinated examinees, or those who have yet to receive a single dose or have not been fully vaccinated, are required to present saliva or nasal RT-PCR test results within 72 hours before the start of the exams. Examinees shall cover the cost of the COVID-19 test.

COVID-19 test results

Examinees who will present a positive COVID-19 test result before the first Bar Sunday shall not be allowed to take the test and will be marked “did not finish,” the bulletin read.

Regardless of whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic, examinees with positive COVID-19 test results shall be barred entry to the local testing center and be required to undergo quarantine.

"Examinees who obtain a positive COVID-19 test result must inform the Office of the Bar Chairperson immediately at [email protected], stating their name and assigned local testing center. A copy of the test result should be attached to the email," it added.

Examinees with negative COVID-19 test results but present flu-like symptoms will need to secure clearance from the medical staff on-site first, and they may be taken to a separate quarantine exam room to take the test.

Test takers and personnel are required to always wear face masks, except when eating and drinking, and these must be of the following types:

  • Triple-layered cloth masks
  • Surgical masks under cloth masks
  • N95 masks
  • KN95 masks
  • KF94 masks

The SC added: “Examinees must monitor themselves for any symptoms and continue their self-quarantine even after the week’s examination.”

Traditionally, Bar exams are held at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila in four Sundays of November, but the pandemic forced the SC to postpone its conduct in 2020.

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