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Bar tough notcher |

Young Star

Bar tough notcher

- Paula C. Nocon of the Philippine Star’s YS -
It’s the bar exam season once more, that time of year when all your law school friends fade into oblivion while you do your own kind of examination at your own bar -- you know, the kind that sells alcohol. While they sweat bullets and endure stomach cramps we can only wish them well, never knowing what the fuss is with those case studies and Latin terms. After all, when we find ourselves needing a lawyer friend someday, the only Latin term we’ll ever have to know is pro bono.

Instead of compiling some moldy old lawyer jokes, or rounding up some bar examinees and bugging them with questions a ‘la Karen Davila (So, anong nararamdaman mo ngayon?), this column will now feature last year’s bar topnotcher, Atty. Rodolfo ÒPongÓ Ponferrada.

Pong turns 26 this year, he never enjoyed L.A. Law or Ally McBeal or Your Honor or John Grisham, has been an honor student since second grade, is now at the Sycip, Salazar, Hernandez & Gatmaitan Law Offices, and is completely devoted to his girlfriend.

And most important of all, he does pro bono cases. Here’s his story.

How did you get into law?

My parents are both lawyers. Early on I already knew I wanted to be a lawyer. That’s why when I graduated from Ateneo I didn’t bother looking for a job ‘cause I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I had no doubt about it. I was raring to finish all the pre-law stuff -- grade school, high school, college. I was asking our department chairperson at the Ateneo, Rudy Ang, if I could finish my Management Honors course in three years but of course, hindi puwede.

Why did you choose Management as an undergraduate course?

I was thinking -- if I didn’t make it to Management, then it would be English. That’s what my parents advised me. And I think they were right, because law is a matter of reading and understanding. So if you have a background in language it would help.

Why UP?

Well, because my mom is an alumna. And it’s nearer our house than Ateneo Law School! And of course, they say it’s the better law school.

Each law school has its own culture, right?

My girlfriend now is taking up law at the Ateneo, and seeing how it is, I think I made the right choice. In UP once you get in you get that feeling that the only way to get kicked out is if you do something really stupid. So, you have the four years to learn at your own pace. Unlike at Ateneo Law, there’s a lot of competition, a lot of pressure. You don’t know who’ll be kicked out next. But I think they’re trying to change it a bit at UP ‘cause some students are getting lax. It used to be that if you’re a law student you’re sort of a professional student cause you already have a degree -- you take up law cause you’re really interested in it, you really like it. But students now, especially in UP, hindi na nag-aaral, pa-gimik-gimik na lang.

What are you planning to specialize in?

I’m planning to divide my time between litigation and corporate law.

What was the first time like in court as a litigator?

In UP during our fourth year we already appeared in court. I had my jitters then. Sobrang nakakakaba because my first appearance was a rape case, a death penalty case. My client’s life was on the line. He was charged on four counts of rape. He was acquitted on three, convicted on one. Instead of death he was just sentenced to life imprisonment. I still feel bad for him, to this day.

It’s said that there’s so much corruption in the judicial system here in the Philippines. Are you already disillusioned?

So far I haven’t encountered anything that would disillusion me. I’ve heard those rumors on corrupt judges and justices, but I haven’t personally encountered corruption. It’s probably because I’m working at Sycip. Here, we don’t engage in high-profile cases.

How did you feel when you topped the bar?

It was great. It was on the second anniversary of me and my girlfriend, March 19. She had final exams so we were at her house. I was helping her review for her exam. But somehow I left my phone on, and my classmate called and told me.

Did you really make it a goal to top the bar?

I just tried to do my best. You really can’t predict these things ‘cause it’s nationwide.

How did you prepare? What was your advantage?

I slept a lot! See, when your mind is rested, it helps a lot. Kasi if you’re puyat and then ang daming mong information you can’t think; you just write everything down. Sa bar you have to think, you have to choose what to write. That’s what’s bad about the bar. You read so much -- but you only get to use about one percent of that. Ang daming sayang.

What were you like in class?

I was just relaxed, optimistic that things would go my way. Of course, I had the grace of the Lord. After passing the bar I asked my girlfriend if we could take a break from studying and go to church.

Do you like the bar system here?

It needs reform, but I don’t know how exactly they should go about it. It’s essay type. there are eight subjects. And per subject, only one examiner. Imagine how many essays that examiner would have to read! Also, the bar is a bit overhyped. Parang fiesta, may banda pa! Big deal talaga! That adds to the pressure.

Do you think it would it be nice to have a lawyer wife?

I don’t know! I haven’t had one! But looking at my parents -- they don’t fight. I’ve never seen them fight at all.

Any lawyers you admire and respect?

My parents.

Did you watch the impeachment trial?

I was reviewing for the bar, so I didn’t watch as much as I wanted to. I wanted to keep abreast of what was happening -- and I was afraid that something from the impeachment would be asked in the exam!

Did you think it was a circus?

I really didn’t like the senators asking questions themselves -- that was an opportunity for grandstanding. They should have followed the US model where each senator can write down a question and forward it to the chief justice.

How busy are you?

Busy enough to make a living. I try to come to work by 9am, leave at 7, 7:30 pm. I bring work home but I don’t get to work. I’m usually too tired!

How do you spend your free time?

Basketball, when there’s an office tournament. But mostly I spend time with my girlfriend.

If you weren’t a lawyer what would you be?

Probably a writer or a teacher. Not that I’m really good at writing, but I’ve always wanted to be good at it. If writing were a more lucrative profession ... or if I had so much money.

So I suppose money is important to you.

It’s not that important, but I see it as a necessity to enjoy the things life has to offer.

Like what things in particular?

I don’t have money now, so I can’t say yet!

Any dream case you’d like to handle?

Something like the impeachment case, towards the end of my career. Something celebrated. Something that has the future of the country at stake.

How do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Hopefully I’ll have something of my own, my own firm or a company.

Do you think having been a topnotcher will still matter 10 years from now?

No, I don’t think so. Experience counts a lot more. But I guess it’s something I’ll be glad to tell my grandchildren.

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