Unreasonable "DQ" rule for COVID-19 positive examinees in 2022 Bar

Under Bar Bulletin (BB) No. 30, S. 2021, otherwise known as the "Guide and Rules of Conduct to the 2020/21 Bar Examinations (Omnibus Guidelines)," examinees who present a positive test result for COVID-19 before the first Bar Sunday will not be allowed to take the Bar Examinations, and will be marked "did not finish." They shall be advised to adhere to the local government unit's required health protocols for positive cases.Additionally, the BB No. 30 states that examinees who present a positive COVID-19 test result, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, will automatically be denied entry to the local testing center. They will be required to undergo quarantine based on the guidelines and protocols of the local government unit of their local testing center. Examinees who obtain a positive COVID-19 test result must inform the Office of the Bar Chairperson immediately at barchair202021.sc@judiciary.gov.ph, stating their name and assigned local testing center. A copy of the test result should be attached to the email.

On the other hand, examinees who present a negative test result for COVID-19, but show flulike symptoms (temperatures over 37.5 degrees Celsius, colds, uncontrollable coughing, or uncontrollable sneezing) at the security check area, will be assessed by the medical staff on site. Once cleared by the medical staff, they may be taken to a separate quarantine exam room where they will take their exams. Their ingress and egress will be monitored and they will be kept separate from the rest of the examinees before, during, and after the examinations.

Although the BB does not mention the term "disqualification," marking an examinee as "did not finish" has the exact same effect of disqualification.

Despite the lack of explanatory notes, what can be inferred from BB No. 30 is that the Supreme Court is probably saying that examinees who will test positive for COVID-19 before the first Sunday of the Bar Examinations are to blame for the situation, being outside the supervision and influence of the Court prior to the first Sunday. However, after the first Sunday, having been exposed to local testing center staffers, proctors and other persons involved in the Bar Examinations, examinees should not be disqualified for testing positive for COVID-19 and the rules should be relaxed.

Despite the apparent wisdom of the above, there are those who still say that the above regulation under BB No. 30 is unreasonable and is not the best response to the current situation, considering the years of hard work and patience of law graduates. This is especially true for those who finished law school two or more years ago only to wait for the Bar Examinations in 2022 after all the hardships and heartbreaks brought about by the pandemic.

Criticisms often cite what is called a "better approach" in which those who test positive for COVID-19 should instead be charged for additional fees in personal protective equipment (PPE), special isolation areas, disinfection tools and other additional expenses that the Court or the local testing center may incur in providing reasonable accommodation to the test-positive examinee. Later, these additional costs may be billed to and collected from the examinee after the Bar Examinations.

It does appear that the suggestion in the next preceding paragraph is a more reasonable one, instead of outrightly disqualifying -- or marking as "did not finish" -- an examinee who tests positive for COVID-19. But then again, critics of this suggestion point out that charging and billing an examinee for additional fees may be viewed as "anti-poor," pointing to the already high costs of the Bar Examinations and recognizing that, at times, despite best efforts to quarantine, there are those who still test positive for the virus.

Whatever the better or best view may be, what is clear is that an outright disqualification of an examinee is not the best response to him/her testing positive for COVID-19. There appear to be other remedies which are less fatal and less devastating to the life, career and mental health of Bar examinees.