SC Reaffirms LEB’s Jurisdiction over Legal Education; Reiterates Unconstitutionality of PhiLSAT

November 12, 2021

The Supreme Court on November 9, 2021 reaffirmed its earlier Decision which upheld the jurisdiction of the Legal Education Board (LEB) over legal education but declared, among others, unconstitutional  the  LEB’s requirement for students to pass the Philippine Law School Admission Test (PhiLSAT) for enrolment in law schools nationwide.

In a Resolution penned by Justice Rodil V. Zalameda, the Court En Banc, voting 13-1, struck down in its entirety LEB Memorandum Order (LEBMO) No. 7-2016 along with all the LEB memoranda, circulars,  and  issuances pertaining thereto, and the PhiLSAT, among others,.

In its 2019 Decision, the Court only declared  unconstitutional  for  being ultra vires par. 9 of LEBMO No. 7-2016 which provides that all college graduates or graduating students applying for admission to the basic law course shall be required to pass the PhiLSAT as a requirement for admission  to any law school in the Philippines.”

With the entire LEBMO No. 7-2016 being struck down, the Court settled the issue of the PhiLSAT as a prerequisite for admission to law schools.

Subsequent to the Court’s September 10, 2019 Decision, the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS) filed a letter requesting clarification regarding the status and treatment of the PhiLSAT. The Court issued a Resolution dated June 16, 2020, treating the letter as Motion for Leave to Intervene, and required PALS to file the proper pleading-in-intervention, and the other parties to file their respective comments thereto.

In its Petition-for-Intervention, PALS sought the declaration of unconstitutionality of LEBMO No. 7-2016 in its entirety. PALS  argued  that LEBMO No. 7-2016 infringes upon academic freedom insofar as it prescribes a passing score  to  qualify for  admission to law  school;  the status  of the  PhiLSAT as a pre-requisite for admission to law school is unclear despite the Court’s nullification of Section 9 of LEBMO No. 7-2016, among others.

In     its    present    Resolution, the Court categorically declared unconstitutional the entirety of LEBMO No. 7-2016.

Said the Court: “Synthesizing the provisions of LEBMO No. 7-2016, 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. For being unreasonably exclusionary, restrictive, and qualifying, the Court declared Section 9 of LEBMO No. 7-2016 unconstitutional.”

The Court added that the legal basis for the PhiLSAT is LEBMO No. 7- 2016. However, since the overall intent behind LEBMO No. 7-2016 is to administer an exclusionary test through PhiLSAT, all of its provisions, whether

key or ancillary, form an integral composite that lays down a holistic framework that is operatively interdependent and hence, cannot be extricated from one another.

“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.

With the declaration of unconstitutionality of LEBMO No. 7-2016, all LEB issuances pertaining to it and the PhiLSAT which are inconsistent with the Court’s declaration are deemed vacated and of no force and effect.

The Court emphasized that the imposition of taking an aptitude exam as   a requirement for law school admission is not per se unreasonable. However, the imposition of a minimum passing rate unreasonably infringes on the freedom of schools to determine who to accept as students.

The Court explained that LEB’s requirement for prospective students to take the PhiLSAT does not per se render it unconstitutional  for as  long  as  the results will only be recommendatory, with the law schools retaining the discretion to accept the applicant based on their policies and standards.However, as an eligibility requirement, the current PhiLSAT is  not a lawful method to attain the lawful subject of the State, said the Court. “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.”

Furthermore, 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. The Court previously held that such requirement effectively nullified the option of admitting non-law graduates on the basis of relevant professional experience that a law school, pursuant to its own admissions policy, may otherwise have considered.

The Court also held that the LEB issuances prescribing the qualifications and classifications for faculty members, deans, and deans of graduate schools   of law violate the academic freedom of law schools on who may teach.

It ruled that there is no question that the master’s degree requirement for tertiary education teachers is permissible. What is unacceptable for being unreasonable is how the LEB exercised its authority to impose  such  requirement as discussed at length in the assailed  Decision.  The  Court  said that the LEB issuances violate the law schools’ right to set their own faculty standards and evaluate the qualifications of their teachers.  “In so doing, the LEB issuances infringe on the academic freedom of the schools to choose who may teach their students,” lamented the Court.

The Court also declared invalid LEBMC No. 6-2017, LEB Resolution No. 2012-02, and Resolution No. 2012-06 insofar as these issuances require law schools to submit a letter and Certification instead of a special order, a document issued by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) certifying that students have completed the required four-year course and complied with all the requirements.

Likewise, the Court held that Sections 2 par. 2 and 3(a)(2), as well as Section 7(g) and (h), of RA 7662, or the Legal Reform Act of 1993, remain unconstitutional for unduly infringing on matters which fall  within  the exclusive domain of the Supreme Court.

Section 2 par. 2 of RA 7662 provides that the State, through LEB, shall, among others, “require legal apprenticeship and continuing legal education.” Section 3(a)(2) states that objective of legal education which is “to increase awareness among members of the legal profession of the needs of the poor; deprived and oppressed sectors of society.” Section 7(g) gives the Board the power “to establish a law practice internship as a requirement for taking the Bar” and to adopt a system of  continuing legal education for which purpose  “the Board may provide for the mandatory attendance of practicing lawyers.”

The Court stressed that while it acknowledges and upholds the authority  of the LEB to carry out the purpose of the law, the said provisions  unduly expand the scope of the LEB’s authority by giving a construction to the term “legal education” inconsistent with the law’s clear intent. By their terms, the provisions no longer just ventured into improving the study of law in law schools, but clearly and directly encroached upon the Court’s exclusive constitutional authority to promulgate rules concerning the Integrated Bar, the practice of law, and admissions to the Bar.

The Court reiterated that the authority to supervise and regulate legal education is lodged with the political departments, as exercised through regulatory measured enacted through the police power of the State.

The Court also held that the authority of the State, through the LEB, to supervise and regulate legal education can be read together with the power of  the Court concerning the admission to the practice of law. It stressed that while the Constitution does not textually confer upon the Court the power to regulate legal education, is it undeniable that it has legitimate interests thereon.

“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. For one, the LEB is itself composed of individuals coming from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, active law practitioners, PALS, and even from the sector of law students. The LEB Chairman is, under  the terms of the statute, preferably a former justice of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals. In addition, the members of the LEB are to be appointed by the President from a list of nominees prepared with prior authorization from the Supreme Court, through the Judicial and Bar Council. To the mind  of  the  Court, this is an acknowledgment on the part of the Congress of the pivotal role played by the judiciary over legal education,” the Court said.

Likewise, the Court reiterated its stance that it will not  arrogate  unto itself the powers Congress vested upon the LEB. However, where one interpretation divines a conflict between this Court and an administrative  agency over the matter of legal education, while another allows for administrative regulation to subsist peacefully with the interests of this Court, the latter should be favored. The public would be better served by a system that welcomes input from agencies of government working together, within and across institutions, instead of one which pits government agencies against each other.

The Court, however, cautioned anew that the State’s exercise of its authority over legal education extends only to reasonable supervision and regulation, not control.

It  explained that LEB’s mandate to supervise and regulate law schools is  a police power measure in furtherance of RA 7662’s objective to promote quality legal education. However, while the academic freedom of law schools under the Constitution cannot derogate the State’s constitutional authority to supervise and regular schools, the Court stresses anew, as it did in its Decision, that the exercise of such authority, through the LEB, must be merely supervisory and regulatory and should not amount to control.

The dispositive portion of the Resolution reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Partial Motion for Reconsideration with Joint Comment/Opposition on Respondent’s Motion for Reconsideration of petitioners in GR No. 242954 is PARTIALLY GRANTED. The Petition-in-Intervention of the Philippine Association of Law Schools is likewise PARTIALLY GRANTED. Accordingly:

    1. LEBMC No. 6-2017, LEB Resolution No. 2012-02, and Resolution No. 2012-06 are declared INVALID insofar as these issuances require the law schools to submit a letter and Certification in place of a Special
    2. The entire LEBMO 7-2016 is declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL Consequently, all existing memoranda, circulars, issuances by the Legal Education Board relating to LEBMO No. 7-2016 and the conduct of the current Philippine Law School Admission Test administered by the Legal Education Board are hereby VACATED and SET ASIDE. They are deemed without force and effect.

The Motion for Reconsideration (of the Decision dated September 10, 2019) filed by respondents Legal Education Board and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea is PARTIALLY GRANTED, in that paragraphs 1 and 2 of Section 15, LEBMO No. 1-2011 are declared  VALID.

All other claims of petitioners, respondents, and the Philippine Association of Law Schools are DENIED.

The Court’s Decision dated 10 September 2019 STANDS in all other respects.

Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, Senior Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, and Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen each wrote a separate opinion.

Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa wrote a concurring opinion while Justice Japar B. Dimaampao wrote a separate concurring opinion.

Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier dissented. The SC Public Information Office will immediately upload a copy of the Resolution in the SC website upon receipt of the ruling from the Office of the Clerk of Court En Banc. ###