She’s helped build 24,000 km of roads, 4,959 bridges, 137,000 classrooms—and she just graduated

Published July 30, 2020, 8:25 PM

by MB Lifestyle

This 29-year-old law graduate finished her studies in six years, and here are the lessons she learned along the way

Anna Mae Lamentillo, Juris Doctor graduate 2020 and chairperson of the DPWH Build Build Build committee

“We were in Marawi for an aerial inspection—we needed to assess the damages on the infrastructure and the road network, and then, a few meters from where we were, there was an active shootout. There was smoke coming out in one of the buildings—suddenly, an explosion. Our chopper was very close, we barely made it. Sec. Mark Villar commanded the pilot to turn around. I couldn’t talk at all on the way back, I was so shaken. Upon arrival in Manila, I read my cases in the car and went to class,” Anna Mae Lamentillo, Juris Doctor graduate 2020 and chairperson of the DPWH Build Build Build committee, recounts. “If there is one lesson UP Law taught me, it’s to show up for class, regardless of circumstances or my lack of preparation.”

Anna Mae is one of the thousands who have been deprived of the opportunity to experience traditional graduation. Last July 26—after six years of some intense work-school challenges—she finally graduated. At home. Online.    

Philippine Investment forum

The 29-year-old initially felt let down, the journey has been so hard and one of the things that sustained her was looking forward to the pomp and pageantry of graduation. To say that it has not been an easy ride for her is an understatement.

There was the time in 2016 when on Christmas day, during the onslaught of Typhoon Nina, the President ordered the DPWH team to join his ocular inspection of hardest hit places. On Dec. 25, they left their families. By December 27, they were on the ground, in Catanduanes, and later, in Camarines Sur.

Even ordinary days were challenging. “On a normal day, I’d wake up at 5 a.m., start work at 7 a.m., leave the office or site by 4 p.m., attend my classes at 6 p.m, and finish at 9 p.m. I’d read my cases for the next day at 10 p.m.,” she says. “On good days, I’d get four hours of sleep, and then there are days when I didn’t sleep, if we opened expressways, such as NAIA, work can start as early as 12:01 a.m. At the start of our stint in DPWH, one of the biggest challenges was completing the Maysilo Project — which at that time was already delayed for two years. We would go to the site in varying hours—11 p.m., 12:10 a.m., 5 a.m., 3 a.m.. I didn’t have the life of people my age.”

She credits her boss, Secretary Mark Villar, and a promise she made to her deceased dad, Manuel Lamentillo, for her doggedness and diligence. Three hours after her father’s funeral, she was in the plane headed back to the US, where she studied at Harvard Kennedy school.

“I have been playing chess since I was grade three. The touch move rule is one of the most basic rules in any chess tournament. If a player touches a piece on the board, they must move or capture that piece,” she says. “My last conversation with my dad before he died was about law school. I promised him I’d go back and get my Juris Doctor degree and so I did.”

See the bigger picture

Prof Charlie Yu, Anna Mae Lamentillo, Prof Gaby Concepcion, and Prof Tantuico

It’s not that she never wanted to quit, it’s that she pushed herself to see the big picture. “Working in the government and studying for law school is a commitment,” Anna Mae, who is now preparing to study for her bar exam, says. “As government employees, we have the responsibility and the moral obligation to continue to work.”

Commitment for her means that, in the six years she has been a law student, from when she started in UP Law in 2014, she has held four different jobs in four different organizations: United Nations Development Program, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Office of Congressman Mark Villar, and now, Department of Public Works and Highways.

“Build Build Build is by far the biggest challenge of my life. I have lived in Metro Manila all my life, and I’m part of a generation that accepted (and complained about) traffic as a way of life. To be a part of Build, Build, Build—President Rodrigo Duterte’s infrastructure program, which aims to connect 81 provinces, 146 cities and 1,489 municipalities across the country—is an opportunity that I will always be thankful for,” she says.

And seeing the fruits of her labor have given her an even stronger impetus and motivation she needed to keep going.

“When Pigalo Bridge in Isabela was devastated by Typhoons Pedring and Quiel in 2011, farmers who wanted to deliver their agricultural products to Manila or Tuguegarao had to take a 76-km detour via Alicia-Angadanan-San Guillermo-Naguilian Road. Students who attend the nearby Isabela State University in Echague would have to navigate via boat or bicycle to school. The villages are isolated during the rainy season when boats are prohibited,” she says. “The completion of a 450-m Pigalo Bridge after two years of construction established the access of San Guillermo, Echague, and San Mateo in Isabela to Tuguegarao City and Manila via Daang Maharlika and Junction Angadanan. Build Build Build provides us a unique opportunity to change the lives of a lot of people.”

And there are also benefits in school: Working while studying Law has given her an edge. Her legal research was on policy risks on Private Partnership Projects in the Philippines—one of the things she was already doing for the Build Build Build program. And when her class was discussing Obligations and Contracts, she’s already signed one.

Would she encourage other students to do the same?

“I wouldn’t impose on anyone the path I took,” she says. “To be honest, I almost didn’t make it. There were many times I wanted to quit, take a break. Often, UP Law has a way of making you feel inadequate, ill prepared, and in need of improvement. Over time, I got used to the feeling and maybe, in admitting that I was inferior— I worked harder to survive.”

But for those who wish to pursue this crazy balancing act, Anna Mae shares these tips so you can have the best (and worst) of both worlds.

PICC inspection

Work for an employer who respects you as a student.

Some of my classmates were asked to choose between their job or law school. It never happened to me. In fact, when meetings get passed 4 p.m., I’d often receive a message from Sec. Mark Villar: “Do you have class? Go ahead.” At the end of the semester, when I return to work after a leave for my final examination, Sec Mark would ask “Pasado naman?” In every occasion — I would just laugh.

Just show up to class (regardless of how unprepared you are)

UP Law follows the Socratic Method. The professor has a deck of class card with each student’s name on one card. He shuffles it, picks a card, and calls a name. This was our routine every evening for the last six years (even when there were power interruptions).

When I still with United Nations, since our classes ended at 9 p.m., the only option was to take the last flight to Cebu at 11 p.m. for a connecting 4 a.m. flight to Tacloban. There were many days I’d sleep at the airport. I read my cases in moving cars, airport terminals—hoping to finish the coverage for my 6 p.m. class. Admittedly, there were many days I fell short but if there was one thing UP Law taught me, it was always to show up for class. Get by—one day at a time.

Rest but don’t give up.

Just about two years ago, I remember having dinner with two of my mentors in UP Law, Atty. Gaby Concepcion and Atty. Charlie Yu. When we were about to leave, I told them I was planning to file a leave of absence. My exhaustion was getting the best of me. I couldn’t forget what they told me: “We won’t stop you but you should know that if you do take a leave of absence, you will never be a lawyer.”

I knew they were right. This wasn’t the first time I thought about it. In fact, to be honest, I thought about giving up on my first month in law school. Every day was a struggle. The secret is rest. There’s no shame in slowing down. Instead of finishing the evening program in five years, I decided to do it in six.

Stick to a schedule.

Anna Mae Lamentillo with Dr. Emilio C. Yap III, and Sec. Mark Villar

When you decide to enter an evening program, time becomes your most important commodity.

I create a calendar on a weekly basis and I stick to my schedule. Everything is in there—inspections, meetings, classes, dinners, birthdays, etc. Over time, you’d realize that even while plans may change constantly, planning is indispensable.

Don’t overcommit yourself.

In opting to do law school, I knew it was to the exclusion of other things. There were many things I had to decline—job offers, spontaneous dinners, state visits, business trips, Netflix, family vacations, etc. Finishing law school means choosing to do so every day in the face of other possibilities.


Anna Mae Lamentillo with President Duterte

Finding a balance between work, school, and life is impossible. Entropy is inevitable. But when I’m at work, I don’t think about school. When I’m at school, I don’t think about work. There’s a big difference between attendance and participation.

Write your notes, create diagrams

If there was one regret I had — it was not taking my notes by hand from the onset. In law school, recall (not efficiency) is most important.

 Go out with your friends, family

Anna with her family

Call me old school—but I don’t think Facebook messages could ever compare to face-to-face conversations.

 Choose something you enjoy

Whether it’s skydiving or target shooting or watching films, find something you enjoy doing.

 Bounce back

I had my fair share of bad recitations in law school and every time I did, I’d study a little longer and prepare for a comeback. Sec. Villar would often remind me—failure is inevitable. It is important to go back to work, bounce back in the face of defeat. Otherwise, you risk defeat being your reality.