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Protests greet order to retake nursing exam

Protests greet order to retake nursing exam

Last updated 01:12am (Mla time) 09/29/2006

Published on Page A1 of the September 29, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A WAVE of protest yesterday greeted Malacañang’s announcement that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had ordered a retake of the controversial nursing board examination in June.

In Dagupan City, topnotcher Gringo San Diego expressed dismay at Ms Arroyo’s order but said he was willing to retake the two-day exam that was marred by the purported leak of test questions.

“So be it. There is nothing we can do but abide by whatever the authorities decide,” San Diego, a graduate of the University of Pangasinan, told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

But he lamented that those behind the leak had gone unpunished, and said it was “frustrating” that the examinees were “taking the brunt of [the effect of] the misconduct of those responsible.”

“It was really a big waste that the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) released the results of the examination. We would not have been confused and frustrated [had it not done so],” he said.

Of the 42,000 students who took the June exam, more than 17,000 passed.

In Western Visayas, 16 of the 19 nursing schools are protesting Ms Arroyo’s order, said Dr. Maria Luisa Parreñas, dean of Riverside College and president of the Association of Deans of the Philippine Colleges of Nursing (Western Visayas chapter).

“We are not amenable to a retake because our students were not involved in the reported cheating and it is unfair for them to have to retake the examination again,” Parreñas said.

She said each student would need about P40,000 to review and to pay the retake fees.

All the deans of the nursing schools in Western Visayas are preparing to come up with a collective position on the matter, Parreñas said.

Western Visayas covers the provinces of Negros Occidental, Iloilo, Antique, Aklan, Capiz and Guimaras.

Belated but welcome

In Baguio City, however, the group that exposed the leak of test questions welcomed Ms Arroyo’s order for a retake.

Two nursing school deans, several members of the Philippine Nurses Association and 92 licensing applicants had filed the first complaint before the PRC, saying the R.A. Gapuz Review Center had circulated an 18-page test leak to its clients a day before the exam.

The group said Ms Arroyo’s decision was “a belated but welcome development” considering “the indecisiveness with which the government handled the leakage issue.”

It said the decision was a clear response to its complaints.

In Manila, Dr. Fe Marilyn Lorenzo, head of the University of the Philippines-Manila Institute of Health Policy and Development Studies, said she and her colleagues in health education were “happy” with the President’s decision although it should have been made sooner.

“It would have been nicer if the Palace was more decisive. While belated, it is a welcome development,” Lorenzo told the Inquirer by phone.

She said she and her colleagues would speak with officials of other nursing schools to explain the situation and ask them to “open their gates for a review.”

Lorenzo also called on members of the PRC to resign.

“Officials of the PRC should humbly bow out now voluntarily. The Palace decision has shown they have mishandled the case. They should have had a more enduring vision of the impact of their decisions. If this was Japan, they would have committed seppuku (ritual suicide),” she said.

Final order

Malacañang sought the cooperation of all concerned, saying the President’s order for a retake of the licensure exam was “final” and in the national interest.

“Her only wish is to uphold the integrity of the Philippine nursing profession, which is known to be one of the best in the world,” Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

“The nursing profession is not only a shining symbol of the Filipino culture of caring, but [also] our source of pride and dignity in the international community,” he said.

Bunye appealed to the parties concerned to “focus on a credible and untainted retake of the exam.”

“Let us also ensure that this unfortunate incident is never repeated,” he said. “The fortunes of thousands of nurses are at stake, and we must not let them down.”

Petitions in peril

But the timing of Ms Arroyo’s order imperils a series of petitions filed before the Court of Appeals seeking to block the licensing of the successful examinees, said Cheryl Daytec-Yangot, lawyer for the petitioners.

Yangot said the retake order could nullify the group’s Sept. 20 petition for the appellate court to hold the PRC liable for a whitewash.

The petitioners included some of the original whistle-blowers, including 27 who failed the exam.

They asked the court to investigate the PRC for “unequivocally dismissing allegations of leakage even if it was in possession of overwhelming evidence” that cheating had occurred in the exam.

The petitioners said the PRC “prematurely released” the exam result even while the investigation of the leakage was in progress.

In a statement, Yangot and fellow lawyers George Andawi and Domingo Añonuevo said the retake order might have rendered “moot and academic” the petitioners’ prayer for the re-administration of Test III and Test V.

“We will not relent in our determination to establish that the PRC-BON [Board of Nursing] acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. We will pursue the case to the finish,” the lawyers said.

Political angle

A group of nursing students called the Alliance of New Nurses (ANN) said it saw a “political” angle in the retake order.

In an interview, ANN spokesperson Renato Aquino said the group was “shocked” by the decision given the President’s purported support of the “no retake” position last month.

“Why the sudden turnaround? They [Malacañang] did not consult the PRC and the board passers. Some of the passers have already left for abroad to work or migrate,” he said.

Aquino said the ANN had heard reports that Dante Ang, chair of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas that was negotiating to bring the US National Council Licensure Examinations (NCLEX) into the country, had convinced Labor Secretary Arturo Brion and Education Secretary Jesli Lapus to call for the retake.

Passing the NCLEX will allow Filipino nurses to practice their profession in specific areas in the United States.

“He [Ang] is using the leakage issue as a scapegoat for failing to bring in the NCLEX this year. He is trying to buy more time. But the leakage is not the reason why the NCLEX deal failed to push through; [the reason] was the peace and order situation in the country,” Aquino said.

‘Most unfair’

Ang, who is said to have Ms Arroyo’s ear, denied having pressured other Cabinet members to back a retake.

Aquino’s accusation “is most unfair,” Ang told the Inquirer. “The issue was extensively debated in the Cabinet, and all angles, issues and concerns were discussed. The President heard all sides and her decision was made objectively.”

He also said he had invited officials of the US National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to the country to try to convince them to administer the NCLEX here.

He said his commission was “grilled” by the NCSBN officials about peace and order and the integrity of the Philippine nursing licensure system.

Ang said: “We assured them that we can handle the peace and order situation and that we can vouch for the integrity of our board exams. I think they were convinced. If this controversy never happened, we would have already been administering the NCLEX here. The alleged leakage is an important issue for them, and with the President’s announcement, we are showing we are addressing that.”

He also said not one Cabinet member was opposed to Ms Arroyo’s stand.

On merit

But Dean Parreñas said the position of the Western Visayas nursing schools against a retake was shared by their counterparts in other provinces.

In the region, 2,424 students took the exam and 1,256 passed, according to PRC Regional Director Lily Ann Baldago.

Dr. Antonio Lim, dean of the St. Scholastica’s College of Health and Sciences in Tacloban City, said the 63 students of the school who passed the exam did so on sheer “merit.”

Student Margaret Leslie Bandoy made the No. 10 spot with an 80.41 grade.

“It is unfair. If they want to have another examination, we should not be included. Our students passed in an honest-to-goodness way,” Lim said.

Norma Tupaz, officer in charge of PRC-Eastern Visayas, also said a retake would be unfair to the students.

“They have suffered much already as they have yet to secure their licenses,” Tupaz said. “I think if that order of the President has to be followed, only the areas where cheating was identified to have happened should [be covered].

In Cebu, the current cry is: “Exclude Cebu nurses from the retake!”

Cebu City Councilor Edgardo Labella, who acts as counsel for a group of board passers in the city called Tanan, or Tapok-tapok sa Nagkahiusang Nurses Batok sa Retake, said it was drafting a letter asking the President to allow its exclusion from the retake.

Around 1,723 passers in Cebu have joined the group, Labella said.

‘If only...’

In the House of Representatives, Deputy Minority Floor Leader Gilbert Remulla said that “in this rare instance,” Ms Arroyo “showed that cheating should not be condoned.”

“If only she treated elections the same way,” Remulla said, alluding to the purported fraud in the 2004 presidential election.

Remulla said he was in favor of a retake for Tests III and V.

He said the purported cheating affected not only the 42,000 students who took the exam but also the Philippine nursing community. Reports from Yolanda Sotelo-Fuertes and Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Carla P. Gomez, Joey A. Gabieta and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Alcuin Papa, Christine O. Avendaño and Michael Lim Ubac in Manila


I believe that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and PRC Chair Leonor Tripon-Rosero are acting out a poorly written script.

Just imagine the scene: GMA orders a retake of the leaked portions of the June 2006 board exam for nursing. Immediately, her personal dentist Rosero announces to the nation that she would listen to no one but the court. The always combative GMA lets the comment pass. She does not castigate her dentist who is her alter ego under the PRC Modernization Law. Is this a dream? Where is the GMA who publicly berated Dep Ed Secretary Fe Hidalgo for claiming that our public school system is suffering from acute dearth of classrooms and facilities?

GMA has been soft on the PRC head since day one. The leakage issue was a manageable one, but Rosero’s mishandling caused it to metamorphose into a scandal of international magnitude. It embarrassed the nation. It spawned untold turmoil on the examinees and their families. There is no doubt that Rosero’s head must roll. It should have rolled a long time ago.

But then again, one should not wonder why Hidalgo and Rosero were not similarly treated by GMA. Hidalgo was on the side of truth while Rosero was and still is on the opposite side. We know which side this administration will support as shown by recent events.

And because of the irresoluteness with which the government dealt with fraud and the personalities who started it and who aggravated its impact, we are still on a stalemate. The real victims here, aside from the nursing profession whose integrity has been shattered, are the innocent examinees. Whether it is retake or no retake, there is no “win-win” solution for them. It is unjust to require them to retake an examination where they did not cheat. It is also unjust to prevent a retake because retake is the only option that will result in the elimination of the stigma engendered by PRC’s mismanagement of the mess. A license clouded by doubt on the competence of the holder is a useless one. It will not put food on his/her table, as the employers made loud and clear.

The victims will retake. Some will do it gladly and are thankful for the decision. More will do it grudgingly and may even blame the Cordillera-based whistleblowers- who are actually unsung heroes though not everyone realizes this yet- for instituting the action that called attention to the cheating, the action that challenged this government to take either the side of righteousness or iniquity. These victims cry for what approximates justice: the guilty must be punished - and be punished soon. The PRC officials who exacerbated their woes should go- and go fast!

Counsel for the “Baguio Braves” who exposed the leakage
St. Louis University, Baguio City
E-mail address:

The announcement of Malacanang that it will order a retake of the nurses' licensure examination is a belated but welcome development. The examinees, whose fate has been in a state of suspended animation since June 2006 and whose anxiety has been growing day by day because of the irresoluteness with which the PRC-BON handled the leakage issue, are now finally receiving a clear response.

But it is imperative for Malacanang to define the details of its order. The examinees and other concerned stakeholders do not know yet if the retake will be of the entire examination or only the fraud-plagued portions. Hopefully, the government will clarify its position as soon as possible to allay the angst of the examinees..

When PRC-BON prematurely released the examination result on 19 July, the stakeholders got divided into two camps- those who wanted a retake and those who did not. It was unfortunate that the public's attention was diverted from the complicity of the guilty. The division was so pronounced that the Cordillera-based group which exposed the fraud in the exams wrote a letter to the President of the Philippines appealing that Her Excellency step into the fray. They informed the President that only she could resolve the impasse. While Malacanang was studying the issue and as PRC was stubbornly clinging to its ill-conceived position that there be no re-administration of Test III and Test V, the stakeholders got more polarized. The polarization among the ranks of nurses and examinees and even the public, progressed to such a state that it had the potential of totally mangling the nursing profession. Thus last week, 27 "flunkers", 7 passers, 5 deans and former deans of nursing schools, and several respected members of the nursing profession were constrained to invoke the power of the judiciary. They instituted a petition with the Court of Appeals asking it to declare that PRC acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in managing the leakage issue. They also asked the court to nullify the resolution of the Board of Nursing which became the basis of the computation of scores of the examinees. That resolution is a telling proof of the PRC-BON's unprecedented manipulation of the scores of the examinees, casting serious doubt on the credibility of the exam result.

Malacanang's position is an affirmation of the PRC's mishandling of the examination and the fraud that attended it. The nurses and examinees who embraced and relentlessly advocated the unpopular stand for retake as the only course of action to reclaim the integrity of the nursing profession can now breathe a sigh of relief. Theirs is a moral and legal victory that they truly deserve. That GMA ordered a retake is an acknowledgment, in no equivocal language, that the result of the 2006 licensure examination is not credible. We maintain that it is not, not only because of the erroneous statistical treatment applied by PRC-BON in computing the scores (as detailed in the petitions pending with the Court of Appeals) but more because PRC's questionable actions on the leakage completely obliterated the integrity of the licensure examination. The primary victims here are the examinees who did not participate in the cheating. We maintain, as stated in the latest CA Petition, that there can never be a win-win solution for the examinees. A retake is unfair, but not to retake is more so. The examinees deserve every the chance to wave a license untainted with questions on their competence. Such questions are not imagined. They are real. They come from the public that consumes the health service provided by the nurses. They come from the local employers. They come from the overseas employers.

We are not abandoning our position that the PRC Commissioners must resign to restore fully the integrity of the nursing profession and to save the other Philippine professions from suffering the misfortune it (nursing) did. Every action of the PRC served to worsen the leakage issue. In fact, what started as a manageable issue progressed to a scandal of international magnitude because of PRC's (mis)handling of it.

CORA AÑONUEVO (Professor, UP Manila); DR. CECILIA LAURENTE (Former Dean, UP College of Nursing); DR. ERLINDA PALAGANAS (Director, UP Baguio Institute of Management): DR. JOSEFINA TUAZON (Dean, UP College of Nursing); ELNORA NOLASCO (Convenor, Alliance of Nurses and Student Nurses for Relevant Education and Service-ANSWER) DR. MARY GRACE LACANARIA (Nursing Dean, St, Louis University); DEAN RUTH THELMA TINGDA (Nursing Dean, Easter College) and Governor, PNA Region I and CAR), NORENIA DAOAYEN (President, Philippine Nurses Association-Baguio Chapter); FELY MARILYN LORENZO (Director, National Institute for Health, UP-Manila).

Our lawyers say:

The "retake order" of Malacanang may have rendered moot and academic the CA petition's prayer for the re-administration of Test III and Test V. But the petition itself, to our view, has not been mooted because said re-administration is not its only subject matter. We will not slacken in our determination to establish that PRC-BON acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. We will pursue the case to the finish until all the issues are addressed by the Court.

It is hoped that the action of Malacanang will not end with the order of retake. Under the law, it is only the President who has the power to remove or suspend the members of the Board of Nursing and the PRC Commissioners whose incompetence in dealing with the leakage scandal heightened its adverse effects on the nursing profession. Considering the magnitude of their offense and ineptitude and their impact on the Nursing profession both local and international, as well as the agony caused upon the examinees, their parents, and the nursing schools, Malacanang should not give them the kid's gloves treatment.

There is a pending clamor in the Nursing Profession for all the Commissioners of the Professional Regulatory Commission to resign or be removed by the President because of their mishandling of the problem which makes them unfit to further stay in office. First, even with proof of leakage before their eyes, PRC Commissioners issued a statement that there was no leakage on the simple ground that there was no Complaint under oath. Under the law, PRC can motu proprio (on its own) investigate allegations of leakages and other examination anomalies, meaning, it does not have to wait for the filing of a formal complaint under oath. This function/duty, the PRC failed or refused to perform. Second, even after receipt of the verified complaint, PRC did not immediately conduct investigations or if it did, these were closed door. Third, the PRC initially declared that there were 20 questions in Test III and 90 questions in Test V that were leaked. This later turned out to be inaccurate because there were 25 and 100 questions respectively. Fourth, even after the determination that there were leakages of this magnitude, the PRC did not invalidate the examinations. Worse, PRC manipulated the computation of the grades of the examinees, and, after computing, published the names of the examinees who passed under the manipulated computation. Worst, despite the pendency of the investigation and the knowledge that an initial petition was filed before the CA, PRC proceeded to administer oaths to the examinees.

Considering the situation obtaining, the administration of oaths could have been held in abeyance until all the issues surrounding the questioned examination would have been resolved. The reason for the existence of the PRC as an office is to act as an alter ego of the President, and, as such it can and should act on its own on matters that are within its jurisdiction. The PRC failed. The Commissioners chose to fence sit and wait for the President to act. While there is a good reason for the existence of the PRC and it should not be abolished, the case of the Nursing Board Exam leakage is a substantial proof that the incumbent PRC Commissioners have no reason to further stay in office for even 1 day.

It is hoped likewise that the Office of the Ombudsman take the cue from the action by Malacanang in resolving the Criminal Complaint filed against the two Board Examiners. We also hope that the NBI will expand its investigation and include the PRC Commissioners in its inquiries.


Hay naku, the dentist Leonor Tripon-Rosero is like an impacted tooth. She must be extracted asap.

Please, please. GMA, bunutin n'yo na si Rosero. Dali!

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