The importance of being a Bar topnotcher
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - January 24, 2016 - 9:00am

The appointment by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III of his former grade school classmate, Justice Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, is being presented by Malacañan as an excellent choice mainly because the appointee is supposedly a " Bar Topnotcher.'' Associate Justice Caguioa reportedly got the fifteenth place in the 1986 Bar Examinations. He will be joining at least two Bar topnotchers in the Supreme Court, namely Justice Arturo D Brion who got the first place in the 1974 Bar, and Justice Francis Jardeleza who was number three in the same 1974 Bar. The fact that Justice Caguioa was a classmate of the president was allegedly a coincidence, although many would doubt that he could be appointed to replace Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and after three months to the highest court of the land, if he were not a classmate of P Noy. With all due respect, and in fairness to both the President and Justice Caguioa, I think the appointee well deserves his appointment.

Of course, we do not question the qualifications of Benjamin in the Supreme Court. He has a brilliant academic and professional credentials. He has had a solid track record in litigation and law practice. He was working in Malacañan as Presidential chief legal counsel. Then he took over the DOJ portfolio in one of the shortest tenure. Without having been formally confirmed by the Commission on Appointments as Cabinet member, the President elevated his classmate as magistrate in the highest court of the land. This appointment is not unprecedented. Nor is it unexpected. President Corazon C Aquino in the early nineties, appointed her Presidential counsel Madam Flerida Ruth Romero as Associate Justice. In the past, many Presidents appointed close friends and classmates rather than career men and women. President Marcos once appointed altogether no less than six justices who were all his former classmates in UP College of Law. And nobody dared to raise an objection.

Like Justice Romero, and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Justices Marvic Leonen and Francis Jardeleza, the latest appointee has zero experience in the judiciary. He has never been a judge even of a municipal court or a regional trial court. But President Aquino selected him rather than the judicial veterans and long-time jurists including Presiding Justice Andres Reyes and Associate Justice Jose Reyes of the Court of Appeals. There are some quarters in the legal community who opine that the President does not care for the career system in the judiciary. He rather cares for people he trusts. And he trusts his classmate, just like he trusts his shooting buddies and his closest friends. And that, my friends, is his prerogative. That cannot be questioned in court. Appointments are political acts, not a judicial or quasi-judicial decisions. Thus, the principle of grave abuse of discretion does not apply.

As Bar topnotcher, the new appointee was number 15 in the 1986 Bar. It is important that one achieves this fate but it is not an assurance of appointment to the Highest Court. There have been many aspirants who were topnotchers too but were not chosen, not because they were not classmates but because they did not have the trust of the President. Trust is very important. Talking of topnotchers, however, such an achievement is usually a ticket to career and professional development. Former Governor Pabling Garcia was the third placer in the 1951 Bar, and his older sibling, Jesus got the tenth place in the 1946 Bar. Noy Pabling's son Pablo John garnered the fourth place in 1994. The Garcias however did not aspire for any judicial post although Pablo John's mom was Judge Esperanza Garcia of the old CFI, now RTC.

There were seven former presidents of the Philippines who topped the Bar. First placers were Manuel A Roxas in 1913, Diosdado P Macapagal in 1936, and Ferdinand E Marcos in 1939. Second placers were President Sergio Osmeña Sr in 1903, and Elpidio R Quirino in 1915. President Manuel L Quezon got fourth place in 1903 and President Carlos P Garcia got the sixth place in 1923. The first woman Bar topnotcher was Tecla San Andres Ziga who was elected senator just like her son Victor. Leila de Lima got the number 8 slot in 1985 and Senate President Franklin Drilon was third in 1969. He took the Bar together with Senator Miriam who did not top the Bar. Senator J P Enrile was number 11 in 1953 and he got 100 % in Commercial Law.

For those who are still in the colleges of law in Cebu, whether in UV, USC, USJR, UC, SWU, and USP or elsewhere, they should realize that somehow their topping the Bar, if ever, can open doors for them, and change the direction and velocity of their life and career. Oscar Globasa from Bohol topped the Bar in 1968, the first student who finished Law outside Manila who achieved that feat. Because of that, his profession and love life went from better to best. I had a student in UST, Arlene Maneja, who was not accepted in UP and Ateneo law schools. She studied in UST and got number one place in 2002 with a rating of 92.9% higher than the rating of President Marcos which was 92.3%. Today, Atty Arlene is one of the highest paid corporate lawyers in the country. Therefore, to be a topnotcher is the magic key in the life of a lawyer. Of course, to be a classmate of the President may prove to be what matters most to some lucky guy. With all due respect.


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