CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—He sure is no spring chicken. But as they say, it’s never too late to be who you want to be.
Just ask Cesar Barcelona Bagaipo, the country’s soon-to-be oldest new lawyer, who will be turning 70 next month.
On April 24, Bagaipo will take his oath as a new member of the Philippine bar, along with 948 other passers of the October bar exams, at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).
Bagaipo, a retired banker, likened his journey to Homer’s “Odyssey.”
“And I am Odysseus,” Bagaipo said, referring to the hero of the ancient Greek epic poet’s masterpiece.
He said the journey to a career in law took him almost 43 years to complete and was even more than twice the time it took the mythical Greek to travel home after fighting in the Trojan War.
When he retired from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) in 2001, Bagaipo said graduating from law school and passing the bar were farthest from his mind, although he tried to pursue the dream back in the ’70s.
However, a career in banking beckoned, and being a commerce graduate, he decided to go for it.
“I took up commerce in college because that was the poor man’s course,” he said in jest, noting that a degree in commerce could land the graduate a job, unlike other degrees that require another four years of study.
In 1968, Bagaipo tied the knot with the former Maria Naty Salcedo and eventually landed teaching jobs at Liceo de Cagayan. He was later hired by PNB.
But in the ’70s, he was lured into going to law school after a number of his classmates went ahead of him.
Bagaipo enrolled at the Liceo de Cagayan College of Law, taking pre-law courses which were not a requirement, having previously taken subjects that qualify as pre-law subjects.
But when martial law was declared in 1972, he was transferred to a PNB branch in Gingoog City and had to drop out of law school.
Eleven years later, PNB ordered him to report to the Cagayan de Oro City branch.
He immediately grabbed the opportunity of being close to his dream that he immediately enrolled at the Xavier University College of Law in 1983, the same year he was recalled to the PNB branch here.
But his law school comeback was cut off anew when, the following year, he was appointed officer in charge of a PNB branch in Surigao.
His desire to become a member of the bar was boosted in 1999, when he read about Kagayanon Gloria Acero Delgado, then a 68-year-old pharmacist and concert pianist, who took and passed the 1998 bar exams.
Bagaipo admitted, though, that his status as a senior officer at PNB was a hindrance to his dream.
When he retired from PNB as assistant vice president and branch manager, Bagaipo said he had considered doing three things. Surprisingly, none of them was going back to law school. He thought about doing freelance accounting work, dabbling in real estate or going back to teaching.
“A life of idleness, even if it was well deserved, did not really appeal to me,” he said, adding that travels and vacations were the last and least on his list as they “tend to be hard on your wallet, especially if you were just a retired employee.”
In 2007, Bagaipo was back at Liceo as president of the alumni association.
“When I became active in the alumni association, I used to spend at least two hours every day at the university,” he said, adding that he looked forward to spending those two hours as he loved “the smell of classrooms and of books” that “rekindled a lot of good memories.”
Then he suddenly found himself taking up law classes again.
Bagaipo said his persistence in his old age has surprised everyone, including Liceo College of Law professor Felipe Montesa, who happened to be his teacher in commerce subjects back in the 1960s.
“Why are you studying? What for?” Bagaipo recounted Montesa’s words upon seeing him in his class for the first time since the 1960s.
“I told him it was just to while away the time so he wouldn’t ask too many questions,” he said.
What Bagaipo did not tell his professor was that this time, he was determined to finish law and take the bar, which he said was highly probable.
Bagaipo said among the things he discovered soon after was that age does strip away some of man’s capabilities. Memory may not be as good as it once was but age also imparts certain important faculties, such as sharper understanding of concepts and contexts.
“It helped, too, to have actual experience on the subjects being discussed,” he said.
But Bagaipo admitted that his return to law school was not as easy as it appeared.
All of his classmates were way much younger than him—some even as young as his grandchildren—and small problems cropped up such as not sharing similar interests.
There was also the problem posed by “high-tech” gadgets.
While he had taken computer lessons as part of requirements of his PNB job, Lotus and Wordstar had faded into oblivion.
“I never mastered Word or Excel because secretaries tend to do things on those computer programs for you,” Bagaipo said.
To measure up, sans computers, Bagaipo said he studied the old-fashioned way by taking notes, reading books instead of browsing the Internet and photocopying materials instead of just downloading them from websites.
“I always sat in front not because I was overeager but because I had difficulty hearing,” he said, recounting the physical disadvantages of going back to school as a senior citizen.
But in March 2012, all his efforts paid off when he graduated with a law degree.
The preparations for the bar exams thus started, with Bagaipo reading every material he could get his hands on.
“I worried that I might have problems in the bar if most questions involved enumerating things,” he said.
But then, Bagaipo said, he “felt relieved” when during the exams in October 2012, he found out that “the questions were 60 percent multiple choice and 40 percent essay.”
“I always knew he would make it,” said lawyer Rey Raagas, a classmate from law school.
“And I was ecstatic when I heard he passed the bar,” Raagas said, adding that he was “even happier” than Bagaipo.
Raagas said Bagaipo was a “unique” classmate because “he was the only one who was able to study the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions in law school.”
Bagaipo said he never had doubts on what he should do next after passing the bar.
“What else would I do after that but practice law?” he said.