Judy Lardizabal, the topnotcher in the 2008 Bar examinations, was given a hero's welcome by her family, neighbors and community in Imus, Cavite as she returned home on Saturday.
Despite her family's poverty, Lardizabal, 28, triumphed over 1,309 other Bar passers and 6,363 other law graduates who took the exams in September 2008.
Lardizabal topped the Bar exams with an 85.70 percent rating.
Judy's father, Deodato, is a tricycle driver, and her mother is a market vendor. She had to get a job at a government office so she could finish law school at San Sebastian College.
"Papasok ako sa office nang morning, aalis ng 5 o'clock para maka-catch-up dun sa class ko ng 6 o'clock hanggang 9 o'clock," recalled Lardizabal.
Her mother, Vicky, thanked her daughter for once again giving them pride and joy from her most recent academic achievement.
"Talagang wala ng mapaglagyan ng kaligayahan. Grabe na, sa lahat ng ibinigay niya sa aming karangalan," Mrs. Lardizabal said.
Judy has been a consistent honor student since elementary school. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work from UP Diliman in 2002.
She graduated valedictorian in 2008 from San Sebastian College Recoletos - Institute of Law.
Judy expressed disbelief that she beat over 6,000 graduates from 108 law schools who took the exams. She said she would have been extremely happy if she had just passed the Bar.
"Tapos binigay pa niya [God] yung number one sa akin. Yung pumasa lang masayang-masaya na ako e, pero eto, more, sobrang naguumapaw na blessings," Judy said.
At first, Judy couldn't believe it when she was told that she topped the Bar, and she only accepted it after she saw the results herself from the Internet, on television, and in the newspapers.
Judy thanked God and her family for their support in her success, and she cried as she remembered how she would sometimes incur debts just so she could pay her tuition.
Her father said perseverance may have also helped his daugther. "Tiyaga naming mag-asawa," Deodato told radio dzMM when asked what he and his wife did for their daughter.
The proud father shed tears as he hugged his daughter after she arrived home on Saturday.
With her family and friends, Judy celebrated her achievement in her family's small house in barangay Tuclong 1-B, Imus, Cavite.
Imus Mayor Manny Maliksi personally congratulated Judy for topping the Bar exams, and he plans to give her a tribute on Monday at the municipal office.
Lardizabal and the other board passers will take their oath at 2 p.m. on April 28, 2009, at the Philippine International Convention Center.
Justice Dante O. Tinga, who chaired the 2008 Committee on Bar Examinations, said the number of those who passed represented 20.58% of the total examinees. The exams were administered through Deputy Clerk of Court and Bar Confidant Atty. Ma. Cristina B. Layusa.
Last year, the passing rate was 22.91% which represents only more than 1,200 passers of the more than 5,600 who took the bar. That was lower than the 2006 passing rate of 30.6%.
The passing rate had to be adjusted and lowered to 70% from the usual 75% because of the very few number of passers.
Given the strictness of the examiners or the checkers of the exams last year, only about 280 examinees would have passed the 2007 bar had the passing rate not been lowered.
The bar is said to be the toughest licensure exams in the country. -- with reports from ERIC DASTAS, ROD MACENAS, and WILLARD CHENG, ABS-CBN News