File photo by Patrick Roque through Wikipedia

The Supreme Court (SC) upheld the Legal Education Board’s (LEB) authority but declared the requirement that students pass the Philippine Law School Admission Test (PhiLSAT) before being permitted to pursue a law degree to be unconstitutional.

The dispute was decided on November 9 by a 13-1 vote, with the LEB Memorandum Order (LEBMO) No. 7-2016 on the PhiLSAT requirement being struck down in its whole for being “unreasonably exclusionary, restrictive, and qualifying,” the SC said Friday, November 12.

The Court emphasized that LEB’s mandate that prospective students take the PhiLSAT is not inherently unconstitutional as long as the results are purely advisory, and law schools maintain the authority to accept or reject the applicant based on their policies and standards.

However, as an eligibility requirement, PhiLSAT is not a lawful method to attain the lawful subject of the State.

The ruling affirms its 2019 decision, which declared unconstitutional paragraph 9 of the LEBMO which provides that all college graduates or graduating students must pass the PhiLSAT to gain admission to any law school in the Philippines.

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The Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS) recently sought clarification regarding the status and treatment of the PhiLSAT.

PALS said the requirement infringes upon academic freedom insofar as it prescribes a passing score to qualify for admission to a law school.

Prohibitive
In its latest resolution, the SC said since “it is evident that unless prospective students have a certificate of exemption, they are compelled to take and pass the said exam as an eligibility requirement for law school. Under pain of sanction or fine, law schools are prohibited from accepting prospective students who do not meet the said requirements”.

“Accordingly, it would be more appropriate to strike down all remaining provisions. This gives the LEB a fresh start, devoid of any arbitrary preconceived ideas when it sits down with the law schools or PALS for genuine and meaningful discussions on a possible acceptable replacement of the present PhiLSAT,” the Court stressed.

The imposition of a minimum passing rate unreasonably infringes on the freedom of schools to determine who to accept as students, the ruling stated.

“Requiring the schools to accept only those who took and passed the exam amounts to a dictatorial control of the State, through LEB, and runs afoul of the intent of the Constitution.”

Further, the Court sustained its ruling that the prohibition against accepting applicants for the Master of Laws without a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree under Section 17 of LEBMO No. 1-2011 is void for infringing the right of the school to determine who to admit to their graduate degree programs while LEB issuances prescribing the qualifications and classifications for faculty members, deans, and deans of graduate schools of Law violate the academic freedom of schools on who may teach.

LEB’s power
The LEB was created under Republic Act (RA) No. 7662, also known as the Legal Education Reform Act, signed on Dec. 23, 1993, by former president Fidel V. Ramos.

The agency administers the legal education system; supervises and accredits Law schools; sets minimum standards for admission and minimum qualifications and compensation of faculty members; prescribes the basic curricula for the course of study aligned to the requirements for admission to the Bar, law practice, and social consciousness, and such other courses; establishes a law practice internship as a requirement for taking the bar, and performs such other functions and prescribe such rules and regulations necessary for the attainment of the policies and objectives of the Act.

The Court stressed that while it acknowledges and upholds the authority of the LEB to carry out the purpose of the law, the questioned provisions unduly expand the scope of the agency’s authority by giving a construction to the term “legal education” inconsistent with the law’s clear intent.

“To be clear, the Court reiterates its stance that it will not arrogate unto itself the powers of Congress vested upon the LEB. However, there is nothing in RA 7662 which states that the LEB has authority over all matters relating to legal education to the absolute exclusion of all others, including the Supreme Court. In fact, a fair and conscientious reading of the law would support the view that Congress specifically intended for all stakeholders to have a say in matters of legal education,” the SC stated.

The exercise of authority, through the LEB, must be merely supervisory and regulatory, and should not amount to control, the SC added. (PNA)

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