MANILA -- Only one in every four persons who took the 2009 bar exams passed to join the rank of the country’s lawyers.

The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday released a list containing the names of 1,451 new lawyers, out of 5,903 examinees.

San Beda College, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of the Philippines-Diliman dominated the top 10, with San Beda taking the first two spots. But seven of the topnotchers come from Ateneo.

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None from Cebu City’s law schools made it to the top 10 list.

Reinier Paul R. Yebra of San Beda College led the 1,450 other examinees with 84.80 percent. His being a topnotcher marked the first time in 42 years that a law graduate from San Beda topped the bar exams.

Yebra was followed by fellow San Bedan Charlene Mae Tapic with 84.60, John Paul Lim of Ateneo (84.50), Caroline Lagos of the University of the Philippines-Diliman (84.40), and Eric David Tan of Ateneo (84.05).

The other passers who made it to the top 10 are: Yves-Randolph P. Gonzalez of Ateneo (83.9); Joan Mae S. To, also of Ateneo (83.65); Herminio C. Bagro III of the University of the Philippines (83.4); Timothy Joseph N. Lumauig of Ateneo (83.2); Naella Rose M. Bainto and Sheila Abigail O. Go, both of Ateneo (83.1).

Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura, who chaired the 2009 Committee on Bar Examinations, said the High Court lowered the passing grade from 75 to 71 percent.

The SC also lowered the disqualification grade in taxation from 49 to 45 percent.

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According to law professors interviewed, examinees generally cited taxation as among the more difficult subjects.

"This has a basis. It has a precedence. The same thing happened in 2007 when the passing percentage would have been 5.54 if we didn't lower the passing grade to 70 percent," Nachura said.

He also said that they also lowered the disqualification grade of some subjects in 2008.

But the 2009 bar posed a challenge examinees from all law schools had never encountered since the first bar exam in 1901.

In the 2009 bar, the SC picked two examiners per subject. As a result, each subject in the 2009 bar had two parts.

Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said the scheme was employed to make checking faster but produced the opposite result.

"This was done to make checking easier and release results early but the result did not come out that way. I don't know what the reason of the chair will be," he said.

Marquez said having two parts might have prolonged the checking and calculation.

Among the examiners this year were Sixto S. Brillantes Jr., retired court administrator Zenaida Elepaño, and Sandiganbayan Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

The recent bar exams were administered through Deputy Clerk of Court and Bar Confidant Ma. Cristina Layusa.

The lowest passing percentage over the last decade was in the 2002 bar, where only 19.68 percent of all takers became attorneys.

The second lowest passing rate came in 2003, with 20.17 percent, followed by the 20.58 percent passing rate in 2008, the 20.84 passing percentage of 2000 and, subsequently, the 22.91 passing percentage of 2007.

The highest passing percentage of all time was in 1954 at 75.17 percent, while the lowest was in 1999 with 16.59 percent.

The 2007 bar results had led Marquez to seek the implementation of Republic Act (RA) 7662, or the Legal Education Reform Act.

The law, he said during a visit to Cebu, has existed since December 1993 but has never been enforced.

RA 7662 creates the Legal Education Board. Its intent is to set accreditation standards for law schools, as well criteria for those who want to teach.

The board is also responsible for prescribing the minimum standards for law admission and minimum qualifications and compensation of faculty members. (KNR of Sun.Star Cebu/ECV/Angela Casauay/Sunnex)