By: Atty. Jez Charlemagne Arago
When the 2019 Bar results came out, everybody was wondering how the passers would take their oath. We are in the middle of pandemic and no one knows when this will end. While the quarantine rules have been eased, gatherings are still not allowed, especially an event like an oath-taking where more than thrice the number of passers usually attend.
Everyone patiently waited for the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) hoping that they could take their oath in the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), all dressed up, made up, and not wearing a mask. But as positive cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Philippines continue to rise, the SC was left with no choice but to hold it online.
I, myself, was not thrilled when I learned the news. I remember thinking about the oath-taking just minutes before the announcement and though expected, I still got a little sad. I could not wear the dress I planned to wear on my oath-taking since 2019. I do not get to see my friends who made reviewing for the Bar bearable just by seeing them in review school or coffee shops. I would not be able to congratulate them, to take photos with them, to laugh with them, and to cherish the moment of reciting the oath with them after making it to the bar together.
So, after the announcement, I just waited for SC’s email on the guidelines on oath-taking and other instructions. I thoroughly read every email from SC. I made sure that I followed every instruction and that I do them before the deadline. And most importantly, I made sure that I have a strong internet connection so that I won’t get disconnected on the day of the ceremony.
Bar passers were asked to register online and were given a link to the Zoom meeting where the oath-taking will take place. There was also a virtual rehearsal for oath-taking, which took us forever to join and be allowed in the meeting room.
Preparing for the big day
When I woke up that day, I immediately got myself ready for the oath-taking. I set up my table against a white wall as my background, as required by the SC. I made sure that there was a wall socket beside the table so that my iPad won’t run out of battery during the ceremony.
I did not plan on dressing up so after taking a bath, I just wore a plain white shirt and a pair of jogging pants. I went outside to buy my breakfast and joined the Zoom meeting upon getting home. I ate my breakfast on the other side of the table, away from the view of the camera, while waiting to be admitted to the Zoom meeting room.
Surprisingly, they let me in early. I was just starting to eat when instrumental music played on my iPad. It was the background music of a slide show of photos taken during the Bar exam. When the music went out, a presentation on the reminders was shown on the screen. They repeatedly played these videos until right before the ceremony started.
While waiting for the start of the ceremony, I put on makeup to give color to my otherwise dull face. I straightened my hair to look a little made up.
My friends, Diane and Cla came to my place with food, while Armi ordered food for me and had it delivered to my place. These were our lunch while waiting for the ceremony to start.
At around 1 pm, I wore my black toga in preparation for the oath-taking. I sat on my chair and waited for the ceremony to start. My friends planned to have a video conference so that those who couldn’t be with me during my oath-taking due to quarantine rules could see me take my oath, and that includes my mom.
My mom works overseas and due to the pandemic, it is hard for her to travel back home. The only way she could see me take my oath as a lawyer was through a video conference that my friends arranged for her. I did not have any idea what’s going to happen that’s why I was surprised when I saw my mom on Cla’s laptop screen. I always thought it will just be my friends. But my friends always have a way to make me feel special, they always exert effort to make everything extraordinary.
Digital oath-taking pro hac vice
It felt weird to take the oath online. I just had to sit in front of my laptop and watch was on the screen.
Since the oath-taking was broadcasted live on TV and by different news agencies on different social media platforms, my friends and family were able to watch the ceremony while my eyes were glued on my iPad screen. I occasionally chatted with Cla and Diane while the ceremony was going on but I made sure that I did it subtly because I did not want to get kicked out in the meeting room by the administrator. No one wants to get kicked out in an en banc session of the justices of the SC.
During the ceremony, all the participants were on mute except for the account being used by the SC. The Bar passers were only allowed to turn on their microphones when they were about to recite the lawyer’s oath.
Imagine the chaos when more than 2,000 participants simultaneously turned their microphones on. It caused a feedback noise making it hard for us to hear and understand what was going on in the SC. So, when my co-Bar passers raised their right hand to recite the lawyer’s oath, I followed and raised my right hand too.
Since I could barely hear what is happening on the other side of the screen, I recited the lawyer’s oath on my own. And before I knew it, I was done while everybody else was in the middle of reciting the lawyer’s oath, so I just kept my right hand raised until everyone was done.
Aside from the oath-taking proper, the speech of the next Bar chairman, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen became a highlight of the ceremony. The powerful words of Justice Leonen gave hope to the newly sworn lawyers that despite the injustices and the broken system that this country has, there can still be progress. The speech of Justice Leonen inspired the law students to strive harder knowing that their little acts can make a change.
Justice Leonen reminded the newly sworn lawyers of their duties and power that comes with the oath. He reminded us to resist justice and to make it our passion to resist injustice. To end his speech, he addressed, “Be better than us. Walang magpapalaya sa atin kung hindi tayo mismo. Humayo nang buong giting at tapang, paglingkuran ang sambayanan.”
Not ideal but special
This may not be an ideal oath-taking. I may not have been excited knowing that I would take the oath online, but once it was done, I felt joy. I felt joy that I am just a step away from becoming a full-fledged lawyer. I felt joy because, despite the pandemic, I was not alone when I took the oath. I felt joy because, despite the plan of just taking it as an ordinary day, we were still able to celebrate at home. I felt joy because, despite the restrictions, we’re still connected through technology. It was still a special day, after all.
I know this oath-taking is something to look back to, not just by the oath takers themselves but by the people who witnessed this event. But I hope that this will be the last time that passers of whatever licensure examination take their oaths online. I hope that sooner, we can go outside freely and celebrate every milestone in our lives without any restriction.
*Atty. Jez Charlemagne Arago is a graduate of San Beda College of Law.