SC declares unconstitutional PhilSAT test for wannabe lawyers

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    THE Supreme Court has labeled as unconstitutional the memorandum issued by the Legal Education Board requiring law students to take and pass the Philippine Law Schools Admission Test or PhilSAT before they can be admitted to law schools.

    In an en banc order promulgated last September 10 but only released yesterday, the tribunal said the LEB Memorandum Circular 18 issued in 2016 that requires the passing of the PhilSAT as a prerequisite to admission to law schools violates institutional academic freedom.

    “When the PhilSAT is used to exclude, qualify, and restrict admissions to law schools, as its present design mandates, the PhilSAT goes beyond mere supervision and regulation, violates institutional academic freedom, becomes unreasonable and therefore, unconstitutional,” part of the 107-page decision penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr. said.

    The temporary restraining order issued on March 12, 2019 enjoining the LEB from implementing the memorandum circular is made permanent,” the SC said, adding “the regular admission of students who were conditionally admitted and enrolled is left to the discretion of the law schools in the exercise of their academic freedom.”

    The SC stressed that while legal education deserves serious attention, the measures done should come through consultative summits with the LEB and law schools working hand in hand.

    The policy and rationale behind the PhilSAT is to improve the quality of legal education by requiring all those seeking admission to law schools to take and pass the examination.

    The PhilSAT is essentially an aptitude test measuring the examinee’s communication and language proficiency, critical thinking, verbal and quantitative reasoning. It was also designed to measure the academic potential of the examinee to pursue the study of law.

    The LEB said there is no limit as to the number of times an examinee may take the PhilSAT. The cut-off or passing score shall be 55 correct answers, or such percentile score as may be prescribed by the LEB.

    The decision stemmed from a petition filed by retired Makati City court judge Oscar Pimentel and several law students challenging the constitutionality of the LEB memorandum.

    Pimentel is currently a member of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law and a lecturer in the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education.

    The petitioners told the SC that the exams deprived those who wanted to become lawyers if they failed to pass it. They argued that the PhilSAT violates the equal protection clause as it is an arbitrary form of classification not based on substantial distinctions as well as the right to education.

    The LEB, represented by the Office of the Solicitor General, argued that the petition for certiorari and prohibition filed by the petitioners are not proper to assail the constitutionality of the memorandum, adding it was issued pursuant to the State’s power to regulate all educational institutions and that the SC’s power to regulate admission to law schools does not include regulation of legal education.