Blind bar passer will inspire you to dream despite odds 2
“Yung pagiging lawyer is to become a servant of the people. Para turuan mo sila to let them know their rights, so that they will know how to protect their rights,” says Atty. Mark Emocling.
Culture

The inspiring journey of Mark Emocling, the first blind law student to pass the PH bar exam

An A-lister student even after losing his sight at 10, the Baguio native believed dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue it
RHIA GRANA | Apr 16 2023

Lawyers have different motivations and inspirations why they pursue Law. In the case of Anthony Mark Dulawan Emocling—the first visually-impaired student to pass the Philippine Bar exam—it was the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada that pulled him in.

The Baguio-born Igorot was only 10 years old then. He was also newly blind at that time. He became visually impaired due to retinal detachment, an eye problem where the retina “is pulled away from its normal position at the back of your eye.”

Mark suffered from high myopia, or “severe nearsightedness,” and was wearing eyeglasses since he was four. He was told he had a weak retina. And then at age 10, the impact of carrying something on his head tore it. He went through several surgeries in the hopes of restoring it but none of it was successful.

Possibly to keep Mark preoccupied, his grandfather, Lolo Sapio, lent him a radio—and this was how Mark chanced upon talk shows where lawyers  were being interviewed about the impeachment trial. “Talagang nagalingan ako sa kanila. Na-amaze ako,” he recalls to ANCX via a voice call. “Sabi ko sa sarili ko, parang gusto ko ding maging lawyer. Kasi kaya ko ding mag-argue na katulad nila.”

Anthony Mark Emocling
Since grade school, Mark has remained keen on pursuing his dream career of becoming a lawyer. “I specifically indicated that in our elementary and high school yearbooks,” he recalls.

Adjusting to blindness

Mark was in Grade 5 when his retina was torn, and he had to stop going to regular school for three years. “I was the first visually impaired person in the family, so we were all clueless as to how to deal with the situation,” he tells us.

One of his former teachers referred him to the Northern Luzon Association for the Blind based in Baguio. In the said school, young visually impaired students are taught how to read braille, do household chores, and other essential life skills. He was there for a year before completing his grade school education at Bakakeng Elementary School, also in Baguio, with honors.

Mark thinks it helped that he was still young when he lost his eyesight. “[Between age 10 to 13] hindi ko pa alam ang consequences ng pagiging blind,” says the eldest among three siblings. “Baka kung teenager na ako nung nawala ang eyesight ko, siguro nagkaroon ako ng depression.”

Since grade school, Mark has remained keen on pursuing his dream career of becoming a lawyer. “I specifically indicated that in our elementary and high school yearbooks,” he recalls with a soft laughter. He continued to do well in high school despite the myriad adjustments. He was always among the top 10 students in his class.

As a preparatory course for his Law studies, Mark took up Political Science at the University of Baguio and finished with flying colors. He was even a Dean’s Lister. He pursued his Juris Doctor degree also in the same university.

Reading about two extraordinary individuals with disability—Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VI, a blind Filipino-American lawyer who was appointed to a key position in the office of United States President George W. Bush, and Haben Girma, the first deaf and blind student to graduate from Harvard Law School—told Mark his dream, too, could come true if he has the courage to pursue it. 

Anthony Mark Emocling with his parents
Mark Emocling with his parents on his graduation day in 2013. 

‘Walang tulugan’

As with stories of many aspiring lawyers, Mark’s journey was rife with challenges. There was a time in his freshman year when he already felt like giving up. “June ang start ng klase. Mga bandang August sinabi ko na sa parents ko na parang ayoko na,” he recalls. All his Law subjects were tough and he expected a bad grade in Civil Law. “Ang hirap kasi hanggang madaling araw nagbabasa pa ako. Walang tulugan.” 

But he took the advice of his parents and decided to finish the semester. To his surprise, out of the 30 students in their Civil Law 1 class, he was among the 10 who passed. “Baka sign na ito na ituloy ko,” he thought to himself then.

Semester after semester, Mark found himself getting used to the rigors that came with the course. “Sinasabi namin ng isa kong kaibigan na Dean’s Lister din nung college, ‘Ganito pala sa Law. Pag naka-75 ka na, parang Pasko na.’”

Mark’s favorite subjects then were Constitutional Law and Criminal Law. “Masayang pag-aralan ang constitution kasi marami siyang part na philosophy. Masaya din pag-aralan ang Criminal Law pero it’s one of the hardest subjects,” the new lawyer offers.  

Where his studies are concerned, Mark says he can pretty much do anything on his own as long as he has a working computer with a screen-reading application. His mother would take him to school and once there, his friends would help him go from one class to another. Sometimes, they would also do their reviews together. Mark finished his Juris Doctor degree in 2017.

Anthony Mark Emocling
“Ako ang one of the luckiest PWDs kasi I have a family who supported me when I was young hanggang sa makapag-aral ako,” he says.

Third try

The Bar offered a new set of challenges. Mark took the exam for the first time in 2018 and failed. He failed again the following year. Then the exams were postponed for a couple of years (2020 and 2021) due to the pandemic. Mark says he was not spared from the Covid-related anxieties. He would review at home from time to time but found it difficult to concentrate. “Maraming uncertainties during that time,” he says.

He went back to attending classes at the review center in April 2022 and religiously followed all the set schedules. He attended all the lectures. “Kung anong reading materials ang naibigay sa akin, talagang binabasa ko from cover to cover,” he says. Binabasa ko ng paulit-ulit hanggang sa maintindihan ko.”

Mark was assigned by the Supreme Court to take the Bar at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. An encoder was assigned to read the questions to him and encode the answers as Mark dictated them. A Supreme Court-designated watcher was also in the room to supervise.

Did he ever doubt he will pass? “Definitely,” he says. “Meron kasing mga nauna sa amin, matatalino sila during Law School pero bumabagsak din. Tapos meron ding akala mo hindi papasa, tapos pumasa. You’ll never know kung ano ang magiging result ng Bar exam. So may doubt talaga kung papasa ba o hindi.”

On the day the exam results were released, Mark was in his room chatting with friends who also took the Bar, anxiously awaiting updates. He didn’t inform his family the results were due out that day.

The barristers were told the results would be out by 10AM, but nothing was released in the next two hours. “I was so nervous I could not eat lunch,” remembers Mark. Around 1PM, a chat message came in congratulating him, followed by another. And another. A slew of congratulatory messages poured in. “Yahoo! Atty. Emocling,” they chorused.

“Di ako makapaniwala kasi wala pa yung official link ng list,” he says recalling that moment. “Then sabi ng friend ko who also passed, naka-flash daw sa screen yung name ko." And then it was crying time. “I went out of my room shouting, telling my family na nakapasa ako! Then we all cried.”

Atty Emocling with Pablito Sanidad Sr
Mark with University of Baguio’s former dean of the School of Law, Pablito Sanidad Sr. Photo from the Facebook page of Mayor Sanidad Sr.

‘Serve the people’

Mark considers University of Baguio’s former dean of the School of Law, and now Mayor of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, Pablito Sanidad Sr. as his mentor. Sir Pablito is one of the proponents of FLAG, or the Free Legal Assistance Group, a nationwide, legal assistance association that specializes in human rights cases.

“Serve the people,” he remembers Sanidad saying, a dictum that has stayed with Mark until now. “Yung pagiging lawyer, hindi yan para magmayabang ka,” Mark adds. “Yung pagiging lawyer is to become a servant of the people. Para turuan mo sila to let them know their rights, so that they will know how to protect their rights.”

What Mark intends to do now that he’s passed the Bar is to become an advocate for human rights and for the protection of marginalized sectors, especially persons with disability (PWD). “Ako ang one of the luckiest PWDs kasi I have a family who supported me when I was young hanggang sa makapag-aral ako,” he says. “Luckily I live in the city sa Baguio na accessible ang mga schools, unlike yung madaming mga visually impaired persons sa mga probinsya na never nakaranas na tumuntong sa school.”

At the Northern Luzon School for the Blind where Mark trained, he observed that most of the students come from far-flung provinces. “Kailangan pa silang puntahan ng mga volunteers para dalhin sa city. Pero mas marami pa ding mga visually impaired sa provinces na wala talagang opportunity or hindi talaga nabibigyan ng pansin maski gusto nila,” he says.

Right now, Mark says he’s still weighing his options as to where he will begin his practice. “Gusto ko rin sa Baguio kasi this is my place,” says the newly minted lawyer, his face proud and happy. “Pero kung saan tayo mapadpad, let’s face the challenge.”

Photos courtesy of Atty. Mark Emocling.