New Philippine lawyers credit God, prayers for success

A tough and highly competitive bar exam this year sees double triumph for one couple
New Philippine lawyers credit God, prayers for success

An aspiring Filipino lawyer searches for his name on a list of successful bar exam candidates in Manila. (Photo by Rene Sandajan)

People holding rosaries with eyes closed and heads raised in prayer are familiar sights outside the Supreme Court building in Manila this time of year when the names of new lawyers are announced.

Everybody seems to remember God. One could hear prayers and praises shouted on university campuses, candles and flowers sold around churches on the day late last month when new lawyers are added to the esteemed Roll of Attorneys.

This year 1,724 out of 6,748 (25.55 percent) of law graduates passed the bar exam held at the University of Santo Tomas held over four Sundays in November last year.

The university is home to the Philippines' first law school, set up in 1734 by the Dominicans.

In a country known for its various expressions of faith, seen in the many religious festivals, almost all who pass claim the secret of their success was prayers and God's grace.

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Among the new lawyers who believe that this was the case are Michael Advincula and his girlfriend Grace Reyes from the southern Philippine city of Iligan.

The couple said that before they take their oath as lawyers in June they will go on a pilgrimage to all the churches and shrines they visited before the examinations to give thanks to God.


Childhood dream

Movies and books about the legal profession inspired Advincula to become a lawyer when he was still in high school.

"I was amazed how intelligent lawyers are in the movies," he told

The young man, however, decided to set his dream aside to do pastoral work for the Catholic group Youth for Christ after his college graduation.

For six years he was active in the lay organization as a missionary and even entertained the thought of becoming a priest.

"It was working for the Lord," said the new lawyer. "We nurtured the spirituality of young people," he added, recalling his years touring the country leading youth activities.

He was about to go to Africa for international missionary work in 2010 when he decided to enter law school where he met Reyes.

Their relationship grew as they pursued their education, believing in their hearts that God would reward their sacrifices in the end.

"When we went on a date, we just ate and discussed our lessons or read books together," said Reyes.

When they were about to take the bar exam, some friends warned that if they took the test together one would not pass.

"But we did not mind it," said Advincula. "We prayed and studied hard at the same time," he said.

Michael Advincula and Grace Reyes, a couple from the southern Philippine city of Iligan, both passed the bar exam this year. (Photo courtesy of Michael Advincula)


Catholic school graduates

For the second consecutive year, graduates from provincial law schools dominated the bar exam top 10.

A graduate from University of St. La Salle, a Catholic school in the central Philippine city of Bacolod came top with an average grade of 91.05 percent.

"I made a promise to God that if I passed my exam, I would do my utmost to promote justice in this country," the new lawyer told the media.

Others near the top also came from provincial law schools, mostly church-run such as the University of San Carlos in Cebu of the Society of the Divine Word, and the Jesuits' Ateneo de Davao University.

Those from Manila also came from Catholic schools like the University of Santo Tomas, San Beda College, and St. Mary's University.

Veteran lawyer Lourdes Espinosa, a graduate of Ateneo de Manila Law School, said that at the Jesuit school there was simply no room for mediocrity if you are to live by the idea of being 'a man or woman for others'.

She said law school teaches you "to study like you have never done before" but "more importantly to pray perseveringly and let divine intervention help you."

"Our standard prayer before class was 'Lord please do not call me for recitation today,'" she said. "After class, our prayer was 'Lord, thank you for not calling me today for recitation'."

She said "constant communication with the Higher Being" was part of daily life in law school.

"No one can boast that he or she survived law school without uttering prayers."

During the bar exam "the intensity of prayers are 100 times more than the regular daily grind," Espinosa said.

"Some were not content with the Almighty and the saints and called on dead relatives and loved ones to help them out," she joked.


Trips to shrines

For Advincula and Reyes a trip back to all the shrines and churches they prayed at before the exam is their way of showing their gratitude to God.

However, the first destination is the Our Lady of Lindogon Shrine, a popular pilgrimage site in Sibonga in the central Philippine province of Cebu.

Though they have never been there before one of Reyes' aunts left a copy of a prayer for the couple's success there.

"My aunt printed it out and took it to the shrine," said Reyes.

They will also visit the Shrine of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina in Quezon City where they will offer the scapular they bought before the exam.

Also on the itinerary is the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Monasterio de Santa Clara shrines where Advincula and Reyes offered chicken eggs for their success.

Advincula said he prayed for the "virtue of acceptance" before he learned the result of the exam.

"I know that even if I fail, God has other plans for me," he said.

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