By Rafael Conejos
THE bus ride going to UST felt as though we were paratroopers in World War II. Some of us were dizzy from the turbulence caused by the potholes of worn down Manila, while others desperately reviewed last minute tips of all shapes and colors, like what paratroopers did when they checked and rechecked if their equipment was ready. It was a last ditch attempt to sharpen an already over sharpened mind before the drop behind a battlefield which we had prepared for but could never be completely ready for, the Bar Exams.
Our bus pulled to a stop and we stood up together as though the green light of our troop transport had gone off. Some chose to hide their anxiety through jokes and bravado, while others were silent. It was time to go. Our dean gave us high-fives as he mentioned our nick names and wished us good luck as we filed out.
“Bar Top Notchers over here!” the security staff of the Philippine Supreme Court joked as he received cell phones and other electronics before examinees could enter the testing grounds. We lined up seemingly as strangers but the test permits dangling over our necks were badges of honor. They reminded us that we are brothers and sisters who have gone through the familiar choice of sacrifice in order to be together today.
However, sacrifice ranges from countless hours studying in a cozy coffee shop to an entire family having allocated the entirety of their savings for years (sometimes foregoing the education of their other children) so that the lucky (and burdened) chosen one would have a shot to even be where we all were. In spite of the differences in sacrifice, we were all here with the goal to one day have the duty to delay no man for money or malice and to conduct ourselves as lawyers according to the best of our knowledge and discretion.
Making my way towards my classroom, I caught the sight of a familiar blue book. Many make out the Bar to be a mythical undertaking to which the country eagerly eyes the results of each year and a not so subtle sign of this is present in the hands of those carrying the Ateneo Reviewer which proudly bears the word “ascend” on the front. A testament to how society can convert man into the divine through one’s ability to handwrite words on a test booklet.
I took my seat and dwelled on my brother’s words that the person in front of me, the person to my left, and the person to my right won’t make it but I will. His remark was meant to both uplift and remind me that only one in four people pass the Bar and it better be me.
As I looked around, there were those who were already in their 60s or even their 70s. What practical significance could there be in wanting to be a lawyer at the statutory retirement age? What makes this profession so special considering our country ignores extra judicial killings, impeaches Supreme Court Justices, and has lawyers who talk too much? The fact that the profession paradoxically takes itself too seriously and not so seriously simultaneously is what makes the Bar infamous and bizarre; a wild ride people are willing to take, sometimes, even more than once. The only things that do matter are that we know the instances for a warrantless arrest, the distinctions between taxation and police power, the control test and the plethora of legal mumbo jumbo that no one else in the universe cares more about on that day than us.
On the day of the exam, my mind fell back on the words inscribed on the reviewer. And I can’t help but wonder what kind of ascension there would be for those who pass yet fall into narcissism, overconfidence, and apathy. Passing the exam doesn’t merit a pass on life. In fact, if at all, becoming a lawyer actually implores us to put the lives of others before our own, something everyone can do regardless of who they are and what they do. We wouldn’t even need lawyers if everyone instinctively were treated each other better. The livelihood of the profession is based solely on controversy, yet if there is nothing to “complain” about we are all better off becoming teachers, scientists and doctors.
The bell went off and everyone began to flip through pages. The most common advice given to all of us barristers is to make sure we answer straight and to the point. So, does the Bar matter? Yes, provided that we ascend regardless of the result.
Rafael Conejos is an Assistant Professor of Law at De LaSalle University in Manila.