Perseverance proven, Leonen calls 'pandemic' lawyers to service

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Perseverance proven, Leonen calls 'pandemic' lawyers to service
The Supreme Court grounds are showered with emotions on April 12, 2022 as 2020/21 Bar examinees learn the results of the grueling exam.
Philstar.com / Deejae Dumlao

MANILA, Philippines — Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, 2020/21 Bar chairperson, said it best to the 11,402 law graduates who finished the grueling licensure test: "You showed courage. You showed resilience. You proved that you can persevere."

Odds were stacked against the "pandemic" lawyer batch: There was more than a year long wait, delays, changing lockdowns, and mere hours before they took the exams on the first day, they had to prove they were not infected with the coronavirus.

The Bar exams were held just while the country was reeling with a surge driven by the Omicron variant, but more 11,402 finished the tests squeezed in two days in February, with two days rest in between. Of them, 8,241 are to become the country’s newest lawyers.

For the 2020/21 Bar examination, the SC, led by Leonenm made several changes: It was the first to be digitized and localized, and it did away with the tradition of naming Bar topnotchers to ease the pressure on examinees.

Addressing the examinees in a message streamed through the Supreme Court Public Information Office and on the LED wall on the SC grounds, where families and takers were waiting, Leonen said: "Never before did bar examinees face the uncertainties they did for these bar examinations." 

"Anxiety was universal. You only need to ask any lawyer who went through bar examinations under conventional circumstances to understand that the difficulties of review and uncertainty that this batch went through were sui generis and far more than what others, during their time, went through."

"You are an extraordinary batch of bar takers. Whether (or not) you made it this year, it was an honor for my team and I to be with you every step of the way," he added.

Against odds

Jeffrey Dy, a graduate of Manila Law College, recounted the anxiety while reviewing. "You do not know if the Bar will proceed or not because it has been postponed already," he said.

Mary Joe Arada is the first lawyer of the family, making the dreams of her father and her grandfather — who was not able to become a full-fledged member of the Bar —come true.

On the day of the release of the results, she was flanked by her parents, who were crying when they found out their daughter had passed.

Holding a bouquet of flowers, Mary Joe said it was difficult to review. "Everyone was in the house. You cannot focus. Then you’d think about what is happening in the outside world," the University of the Philippines law graduate said.

On top of that, the health worries over COVID-19 never went away. "Is your family going through something? Are you sick (with COVID-19)? Aside from the very rigorous work in law school, it was so difficult," she said.

But it was all worth it. Her father, Joel, said as Mary Joe burrowed her head in her father’s neck: "She is the first and I really said: It is my dream to see you become a lawyer."

Nothing without family

Rowan Gabito’s work in Kuwait was a casualty of the pandemic. His only daughter Patrice had two years left in law school when he was sent home while Filipinos were scrambling for jobs.

But Rowan and his wife vowed they will work hard to make sure their daughter will finish her studies even if he was without work for two years.

And, on April 12, Rowan saw his daughter’s name flashed on the LED wall installed in the SC grounds.

"That’s the only thing we are waiting: For her to pass," he said.

Ria Malaluan-Cruz, a mother of seven, finally became a lawyer after ten years and on her third consecutive try at the Bar— and amid a pandemic at that.

With her husband, lawyer Ding Cruz, they watched as her name was flashed on the LED screen. She said her husband has been a great support for her.

"It was really difficult because I have to be away from my kids," she said.

Being a mother of seven and having already failed twice, Ria persevered. "I want to serve not only because many seek help from us, but without the 'Attorney', you just cannot just it’s the real thing." 

She said that when people asked her for legal assistance, she still had to ask her husband, whom she met soon after he passed the Bar in 1995, about it.

In 2022, their journey has come full circle. Ding said: "It was difficult. I felt like single parent during those times but this is reward for us. I’m very happy.I met her when I passed the bar in 1995 she was my student and now she’s now a lawyer."

Making it together

Ruiza Tolentino and Reinier Razon have been making concrete steps to making their dreams to become lawyers come true since they were taking their undergraduate degress in San Beda College in Manila 11 years ago.

And in the 2020/21 Bar exams, they made it. Together.

Ruiza said she is thankful for the support of everyone. "Finally, we can say we are Justice Leonen babies."

Reineir said now that he is set to become a lawyer, it is time to repay the sacrifices of his parents who are overseas Filipino workers.  "[I wish] they would come home," he said.

But passing still felt like a fever dream for the couple. Reineir said: "This is our dream, then we did not know, we will claim it at the same time."

Again and again and again

Victor Viernes had to to hurdle more than health and livelihood concerns when he took the 2020/21 Bar exams. The fear and anxiety of taking it for the fifth time was hanging over his head.

But he did it, he was among the more than 8,000 new lawyers to take oath in May.

"I was overjoyed because this is my fifth, I really gave it my all," he said in Filipino.

It took Jocelyn Coronado three tries finally become a lawyer and she takes pride in it.

"Despite the pandemic, all challenges of the Best Bar Ever, this is it. Even if they say it’s the easiest Bar ever, we will serve the people," the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University graduate said.

The 8,241 soon-to-be lawyers will be taking their oath before the Supreme Court justices in SM Mall of Asia Arena on May 2, 2022.

The Bar chair reminded the new lawyers: "Face your success with magnanimity and humility… Be awed at what lies ahead."

"There is suffering among our people. Their clamor for justice is beyond audible. Begin your practice with the values that we have inculcated during this bar examination: compassion, serve our people, and abiding passion for justice." 




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