IT IS every law student's dream to take up and pass the bar exam after four years in school.
When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the country and the rest of the world in 2020, Malaica Nina Maloloy-on and other bar takers were saddened when the Supreme Court announced its indefinite postponement after months of preparation.
"Halo-halo siya. Emotional, physical, mental struggle. Kailangan nimo mag-adjust kay normally six months lang. We were expecting that after years in law school, makapag-exam na ka tapos lo and behold, nag-pandemic man. Naa ka two years na hulaton," she said.
(It was mixed feelings. It was an emotional, physical and mental struggle. We had to adjust because normally you have to wait for six months before taking the exam. We were expecting that after years in law school, we will be able to take the exam. But the pandemic happened. We had to wait for two years.)
While it gave her more time to study, she said the prolonged agony of waiting had given her so much stress.
Fast forward to 2022, the bar examination finally pushed through despite the threats of the new Covid-19 variants resulting in the surge of Covid-19 cases.
In addition to the much-needed study, she had to undergo two-week isolation and had to take the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, which is an additional requirement before she could take the examination. Fortunately, she tested negative for Covid-19.
Maloloy-on was among those 478 examinees from across Mindanao who waited for two years before their dream of becoming a lawyer would soon materialize. Instead of conducting the examination in Manila, the Supreme Court also decided to have the 2022 bar examinations in Davao City for two days: on February 4 and 6.
On the last day of the bar examination, what she did not know was that a surprise was already being prepared without her knowing it.
The moment she stepped out of the examination venue, which was at the Ateneo de Davao University Senior High School campus in Bangkal, all she wanted was to eat after being not in the mood to have lunch.
Her boyfriend, lawyer Demrev Salazar, also a law graduate and bar passer three years ago, waited for her outside.
"Gutom na kaayo ko. Gisapot nako (I was hungry and getting irritated)," she said while asking her boyfriend if they could stop by at the nearest restaurant for a quick snack.
But her boyfriend insisted that they go back to the hotel where they stayed for the past few days before heading out.
Upon reaching the hotel room, she was surprised to see candles and decorations all around.
She thought she had already finished answering all the questions that day. However, she did not expect that she has yet to answer another question, this time from her boyfriend ━ a question that would also change her life forever: "Will you marry me?"
Unlike in the bar exam, all it took was a short yet sweet "yes."
Indeed, she had no idea at all that her boyfriend would give her an advanced Valentine’s Day gift.
“Na-surprise ko actually. Ang naa lang gyud sa akong mind ato na time was na mahuman lang nako ang exam. Bonus lang gyud naa pa diay ing-ani,” Maloloy-on said.
(I was surprised. What was on mind during those times was to only finish the exam. This was a bonus.)
“Nag-pay off tanan imong kakapoy from the review hangtod sa examination. Wala ko nag-expect nga naa pa diay koy last question nga tubagon that day. At least kabalo ko sa akong heart na easiest gyud to na question na akong tubagon,” she added.
(It seems that every effort I made for the review is paying off. I was not expecting that I have another question to answer on that day. At least, I know in my heart that this is the easiest question to answer.)
Worth the wait
Salazar shared that he finally proposed to his girlfriend after being together for nearly seven years.
He took and passed the bar exam in 2019, and his girlfriend was by his side to support his journey of becoming a full-fledged lawyer.
“Naging gaan gyud ang akong law school life tungod ni Malaica kay since law school hangtod sa pag-review sa bar, pag-take sa bar, ug paging abogado nako, naa gyud siya,” he said.
(My law school life was made better with Malaica. She was there for me too from reviewing for the bar, taking it, and becoming a lawyer.)
When it was Maloloy-on's turn to pass the bar, he thought of pulling off a special surprise for his girlfriend – to be his Mrs. Salazar.
Salazar already bought the engagement ring in 2020 supposedly to propose to his girlfriend after taking the bar exam in November that year, more than a year since she graduated from law school. He already planned to propose to Maloloy-on outside the examination venue in Manila, with the help of her friends and classmates.
It wasn’t only his girlfriend who had been waiting for this special day. When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the bar exam had to be postponed to an indefinite date. He also had to shelve his plans.
"Syempre nakahuna-huna ko 'Kanus-a na pud kaha ni ang next?' Nagahanap lang gyud og tiyempo hangtod natyempohan na gyud sa third attempt," Salazar said.
(I was thinking when the next will be. I was just waiting for the right time and this third attempt was the one.)
Despite the delays, he made sure that he would stick to his plans. But why was he so motivated in proposing to her on the last day of the bar exam?
"Gusto nako sa last day sa iyang pag-take sa bar exam kay ma-feel man gud nako nga mao na ang pinaka-special nga day sa mga nag-take og bar. Kanang mahuman na gyud ang ilang dugay na gipaabot na exam after two years," he said.
(I want it to be on the last day of the exam because it seems to be the most special day for the examinees. After two years, you have finally had your exams.)
Since the Covid-19 restricts mass gathering, he decided to do the surprise intimately and privately.
Salazar admitted that executing his plan was difficult. He also had to self-isolate in a separate room, same as what his girlfriend did, weeks before the examination.
Since he cannot go out during those times, he had to seek help from Maloloy-on's family in pulling off his surprise. For her not to notice his plans, he had to do the communication through email.
How their love story started
The couple both graduated from Cor Jesu College in Digos City, Davao del Sur.
Salazar recalled that he first met his girlfriend, now soon-to-be-wife, in 2015 when he was already in his third year while the latter was still in her freshman years.
Both belong to the same circle of fraternity and sorority.
What started as a tease from fellow lawmates led to them forming a relationship.
"Hangtod sa nagpadayon. Nag-sige mi sabay og study hangtod nagka-date mi until such time na naging in a relationship na mi. Mutually nag-fall lang ming duha. Lisod siya i-explain," Salazar said.
(We kept on going out together to study and it eventually turned into dates. Next thing we know, we were in a relationship. We mutually fell for each other. It’s hard to explain.)
The couple said that their relationship became a "support system" and "inspiration" to each other during their years in law school.
"Lahi gyud ang feeling na pagkahuman sa imong exam, recit, medyo kung OK, kung bad trip, pangit imong tubag sa recit, wala ka katubag, naay mu-console sa imoha, naa'y muingon sa imo na 'Bawi lang next time.' Naay nagapalakas sa imong loob," Maloloy-on said.
(The feeling is different after exams or recitation. While there were times that we fell short with our answers or did not do well, you have someone to encourage you to do your best next time.)
She said this also became a "common ground" for their relationship, which made them even compatible due to their dedication to their studies.
She said their slight age difference had also become an advantage.
"Naging tool pud siya para i-guide ko niya (Being older, he guided me)," she said.
'Law school is a jealous mistress'
Just like every normal relationship, the couple encountered tough challenges. Citing US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story's famous remark that "law is a jealous mistress," being in a relationship with a fellow law student would require a "long and constant courtship."
With all the hardships in law school, both of them knew that there were also risks in between for the two of them.
"Importante kaayo mag-set ka og priorities, disiplina, ug mag-balance sa time (It is important that you set your priorities, have the discipline, and are able to balance your time)," Salazar said. "Actually kung in a relationship ka sa law school, it can either make you or break you (Having a relationship in law school can either make you or break you)."
Finding free time for anything in law school is extremely challenging.
"Sa relationship, kailangan pud sa imong partner imo time. Sa law school pud, kailangan nimo mag-study kay daghan ka og studyhan. Bisan imong family, mas dili na kaayo nimo makita kay focus ka sa imong study," he said.
(In relationships, you need to find time for your partner. In law school, you also need time to study. Even with your family, sometimes you have no time for them because you are too focused on your studies.)
Maloloy-on said that people in law school are mostly "sensitive," which is why there are episodes of misunderstanding especially when both are pressured with their upcoming exams.
If there is one misconception about law student couples that they tried to prove wrong is that there is still the value of humility, especially in admitting one's mistake.
"Diba ginaingon nila dapat pag-law student daw ka, walay magpapildi. Pero dili ing-ana in all cases. Sa amoang duha, since nasabtan namong duha ang ginaagian sa isa, kailangan pud niya time and space," she said.
(You should not back down as a law student, they say. But that is not always the case. For the two of us, we understand what we have been going through and know that we should also give each other time and space.)
"Balik gihapon sa support and balance, and sa among goal nga maging abogado ming duha," the couple shared.
(We should still support one another, find balance in things, and at the same time, meet our goal to become lawyers.)
Future plans together
As of now, there are still no concrete plans, including the date for their wedding, but the couple said it would be “soon,” and would be “intimate.”
“Wala pa gyud mi concrete plan kay fresh pa kaayo ang tanan sa bar exam. Gusto nako mag-relax sa (No concrete plans yet. I am fresh off the exam and just want to relax),” Maloloy-on said, adding that she is still praying that she would pass the bar.
For now, both of them are currently focusing on their work.
The couple is currently working as assistant legal researchers for Salazar’s father, a long-time city councilor in Bislig, Surigao del Sur. Salazar said his father inspired him to become a lawyer, although he had no plans for now in joining politics.
“Naga-enjoy naman ko sa work sa city legal. Gusto ko private lang, mas naga-enjoy ko sa akong legal practice,” Salazar said.
(I enjoy working at city legal. I want to pursue private practice.)
Aside from living in a house together, the couple planned to set up a law firm together.
As for Maloloy-on, she is also aspiring to be a lawyer for the Public Attorney’s Office or to be a prosecutor in the future.
Amid the hardships, they still owe their love story to law school.
“Ang law school nagtabang sa amo na makilala namo ang isa’t-isa. Na-test namo asa among pinakalimit namo. I think we are both ready na kung unsa man ang ibato sa amo. We’ll manage to handle it together,” Maloloy-on said.
(Law school is where we met, where we were tested to our limits. I think we are both ready for the challenges that come our way. We’ll manage to handle it together.)