By Dr. Ma. Angela Leonor Aguinaldo
Welcome to the Knightfall Protocol.
It took a few months before I finally decided to launch this blog after being offered to contribute to the EBC (Eagle Broadcasting Corporation) website.
The eagerness to help was there but I had my personal misgivings on whether I had the qualification to write on issues and events that matter around the world. I had qualms on whether anyone would be interested in the thoughts, opinions, and ideas I want to share, even when it comes to pop culture and how certain things are portrayed in different mediums. I was strung tightly into an imposter syndrome: I believed that I was not as competent as others perceived me to be. And this stopped me from taking the leap. However, after much deliberate thought I realized that I had the voice. I had the voice, knowledge, and skillset to actually speak, and to which people might listen. I had the thoughts, ideas, and even feelings, that others might believe to be interesting or even inspiring. I may think of myself as small but as Natalie Lloyd said “My voice is never louder than a ripple, but even small voices sound loud when you talk about things that matter.” Through my entries, I wish to apply my knowledge, speak my truths and opinions, and make a stand on issues that are happening across the globe. Thus, it is time to unmask and reveal myself through my thoughts and put the Knightfall Protocol into action.
Let us start however from the beginning so you may know me a bit better.
I was a recipient of a Lasallian education growing up. I took my grade school and high school education in De La Salle Zobel then went to De La Salle University for my bachelor studies, where I took up Bachelor of Science in Applied Economics and Bachelor of Science in Commerce Major in Legal Management. In university, I did not solely focus on my studies but was engaged in different student organizations and extra-curricular activities. I was part of the DLSU Pops Orchestra, Economics Organization, and other groups, and also served as a Lasallian Ambassador and Deputy Commissioner for the 4th Young Economists Convention as well as other officer positions. Although I had a lot of extracurricular activities and was greatly involved in the Lasallian community back then, I never slacked off my studies. My academic standing mattered greatly to me and I never used the amount of activities I had to be an excuse why I slacked off. In fact, I pushed myself to work and study harder because I needed to cope up with the time lost to my extracurricular duties and responsibilities. Besides, I truly love the courses I took. I remember always taking the seat in front of the teacher’s table and being immersed in classes. Back then, I think no one truly appreciated the beauty of studying Applied Economics and the law together. The field of law and economics back then, I believed was such a novel notion (at least in my community and the Philippines) and yet I saw back then the amazing relationship they could have on each other. I engrossed myself in the study of these two disciplines that looking back now on those years, I contemplated then pursuing the specialization of Law and Economics.
I was a consistent Dean’s lister in university. Later I graduated with Honorable Mention and was the recipient of the Sixto Roxas Excellence in Economics Award. I fell a few points short of cum laude (which to be honest disappointed me a bit) and the Honorable Mention award was given to those who received a GPA above 3.0 in De La Salle University. The Sixto Roxas Excellence in Economics Award, on the other hand, was given to those who were on the top of the graduating class.
After obtaining my double Bachelor degrees, I pursued law school. I come from a family of lawyers as my dad and siblings are all lawyers, and this may have contributed to my reason of pursuing law but I always knew that I wanted to be different. I wanted to be different from them and I also wanted to be different from the others. This may have been due to the numerous lawyer and crime procedural dramas on cable television back then, but I knew I wanted to be different. Also, I promised myself that I would be a stronger person and excel even further if I study law. I made this resolve after I experienced some unkind circumstances in my last years in university. I toughened myself up, so to speak, because I knew that law school is another playing field and it can be a dog-eat-dog world.
I studied in the Ateneo Law School where I was lucky enough to be taught by legal luminaries, professors, and lecturers. I attended evening classes with my block and I also served as the class beadle. For those who aren’t familiar, the class beadle is akin to being the class president and it was my job to coordinate with the professors, coordinate things needed to be done (e.g. photocopying of cases for the entire block, organizing parties for the teachers, etc.), and keeping my blockmates in check. I took my job seriously as a class beadle for the entire 4 years of my law school life and to the best of my capability tried to nurture my blockmates and build a block culture that everyone would get along with each other despite our many differences and affiliations. I was also friends with the law school administration staff, the other staff members in the law school, with the photocopying staff, and I was amiable with the professors – often asking for incentives or bargaining for voluntary recitations, or even making sure I know their respective birthdays to throw the grandest birthday parties a block can organize within the four corners of our classroom. I did not necessarily became close to this people for any ulterior motive or political reasons but I did enjoy getting along with everyone in our law school community and fostering good relationships with one another.
Like in university, I was also very active in law school. I admit I was on top of my game notwithstanding the challenges along the way. I was involved in almost every student organization in law school but primarily in the Student Council, so this was stepping it up a notch from what I did in university. I was active because I believe not only in serving the community but it made much more sense to me to be active in the law school’s student council than in university. We were not only students of the law but we were the future advocates and public servants that owed it to the community to pay things forward. Back then and until now, I believe that education is not limited to the four corners of the classroom. Especially for us that were students of the law, we had the responsibility to study beyond what was provided in our law books. Yes, studies are important – even I made sure I excelled academically albeit the extracurricular concerns I needed to handle – but it is also important to get involved. Thus, I had no misgivings in being involved back then even if I became the tallest tree as well as needed to study in overdrive. I had to study right after my evening classes and stay awake during the wee hours of the night because I know that I had limited time to study during the day due to numerous distractions and the duties and responsibilities I had to fulfill. And just like in university, I never used my other tasks and responsibilities as excuses. As I acquiesced to commit to what I was doing then, it was imperative for me to do what was expected of me. If I said I would commit, I would commit and give the best I can do at every time.
But of course, studies remain a top priority. As we were expected to also excel academically and later on pass the bar exams, I religiously spent time on my studies notwithstanding being a student leader at the same time. My laptop back then was my quintessential partner as I make notes for each subject every semester and then edit them as class goes on. This was how I learn and how I still learn today: by being a tactile learner. I am not a fan of crab mentality and believe that sharing is caring. Thus, these notes were eventually shared to my blockmates during midterms and finals and thereafter were shared to lower batches. This subsequently led to the infamous “Angel notes”, which I am not sure if are still being shared. I just know they are being posted online (and without my permission) and even a famous law website directly copied from it by verbatim writing my examples (also without my permission). The process for these notes was this: I made notes from the prescribed textbooks of the professors, include then the case digests I made for the assigned cases, and additionally make notes from supplementary textbooks I would have for the subject. That was my discipline. In general, I tried to go beyond what was prescribed so that I could anticipate what could be asked further about the subject. And that’s how I learn even until today.
I obtained my juris doctor degree with Second Honors. Then I reviewed for the bar exams for around 6 months. Reviewing for the bar exams was clockwork and since I learn better through repetition, I aimed to do around 6 readings for each subject. This may be a lot but this was more of a security blanket on my part to ensure that did indeed my best. I remember then having my monthly and weekly planners, being color-coded to signify a particular subject. With my printed notes, I made the needed annotations should I find additional information from review classes and materials I read. I followed a particular schedule when I will wake up, study, eat, have my daily exercise, and sleep. I did not think about taking the bar exam again so I motivated myself to prepare and focus well.
The hard work paid off and I passed the bar with the highest marks being in political and international law, criminal law, and remedial law. This was not surprising as these were the subjects I excelled in the most in school.
I found myself working after taking the bar exams. While the results were still pending, I was hired as an underbar associate in Medialdea Ata Bello Guevarra Suarez. My father is also a lawyer and our family owned a law firm but I opted to work for another firm. I believe that this decision did not fare well with my family (even up to this day) but I did not want to be the typical child of owner. In working for another firm other than ours, I wanted to learn the ropes from the bottom up. I wanted to taste my own blood, sweat, and tears that would otherwise not have been the same if I worked outright in the law office of my father. If I wanted to have true moral ascendancy over those who I might supervise soon in my father’s firm, I should not begin with a boss mentality but instead have the background experience and knowledge to back myself up. That was what I thought back then and I would still make the same decision if I turn back the time.
And indeed, the experience and knowledge I had working with MABGS was unparalleled. I was fortunate that during my employment in the firm, junior associates worked closely with the partners so I had the privilege of being under their direct tutelage and having a direct line of communication and feedback from them. Workload was admittedly stressful and of course I was often tired from fulfilling deadlines and other responsibilities, but it was an experience I would never trade for anything. It was during this experience I was able to also expand my network, meet new people, learn what I wanted from my legal practice, and overall become a better person. It was also during my time with MABGS when I learned I had the innate ability for litigation and legal research as well as the interest for probing evidence and giving attention to it. I had the privilege back then to handle novel legal issues and this excited me (even if it was often scary) because I needed to go beyond what was given. And in hindsight, maybe this was already a sign that I would go to academic research and bother myself with interesting questions of law.
Entering my third year in practice, I decided to pursue my LL.M. degree. I got an email from a schoolmate and I was greatly interested in the LL.M. Forensics, Criminology, and Law programme of Maastricht University Faculty of Law. As mentioned earlier, I am a fan of those legal-themed or crime procedural dramas and I wanted to specialize in the subjects of said programme like Psychology of Law, Criminology, Organizational Crime, Forensic DNA, etc. so I took the chance and applied. To be honest, my parents were initially against the idea. Not only did they need to support my studies then but I would also be away from them. Eventually I ended up going and I was the programme’s first and only Filipino student back then.
Being non-European as well as the first and only Filipino, I felt the pressure of performing extremely well. It may be a cultural thing for Filipinos and Asians in general, but I did have the innate pressure to prove myself that I can do it. The fact that my parents were financing my studies also added to the pressure. While others were spending time socializing or partying every day and every night, I did not want to waste the opportunity given to me. I did not want to waste the hard earned money my parents were spending on me and I wanted to make every penny paid worth it by delivering each and every time great results. I also wanted to break glass ceilings for those who would follow me and raise my flag at every opportune time it was possible. Through God’s grace, I made it through and with flying colors. I had my own version of Angel Notes, I participated actively in lectures and tutorial groups, I learned the Dutch language, as well as was part of the prestigious Honours Programme (PhD track), where only 6 LL.M. students were chosen to be a part of, and graduated cum laude. I was also chosen to be the student speaker when the then Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans (he is now the First Vice President of the European Commission) held a town hall meeting in Maastricht. I remember that I opened up my speech about the Maguindanao Massacre, which was the subject of my master thesis, and then talked about human rights and gave a call of action to everyone.
Who you are when you leave for another country or chapter in your life would not be the same person afterwards. This has admittedly been the same to me. Living and studying abroad for a year has broadened my perspectives immensely and given me a new improved worldview. Without necessarily abandoning my so-called values and non-negotiables, I admit that my character and perspective as a whole has changed. I realize that I became more resilient. Being the sole Filipino who was in a whole new world, I developed more grit. I learned how to be independent and do things by myself. Even if there were kind and generous people I met along the way, in general I learned how to run alone and how to rely on and do everything by myself. Also, I learned even more to stand up for myself. Being in a foreign land back then, I realized how much of a second-class citizen I was and I needed to stand up for myself because if not, who would? While studying in Maastricht, I realized the disparity for example in the tuition fees EU residents and non-residents would pay. There was also the disparity in privileges and benefits. And given that no one knew what a Filipino can do, I delivered to the best of my capabilities. I did not also take any crap from anyone. While being non-confrontational is so innate to our Filipino culture and Asian societies in general, Europeans can be frank, straightforward, and brutally honest. If you do not stand up for yourself, they could probably eat you alive. Thus, it is important to be self-assured and not be a doormat. Thus, until to this very day, even if I am nice and forgiving, I would proudly stand up for myself and my rights if the situation requires it.
Other than this, being educated in what I studied for my LL.M., I realized that I was the first of my kind in the Philippines and with this niche, I did not only apply my learnings to my daily grind of litigation and other legal referrals in my job, but I also found it apt to pay it forward. I wanted others to see the beauty of what I studied and apply it in their respective practices in the future. Thus, when I was offered to teach by the Ateneo Law School’s Dean Sedfrey Candelaria, I said yes to the opportunity. I taught for two semesters the electives Legal Psychology and Evidence as well as Organizational Crime. When I taught my subjects, I applied the problem-based learning method from Maastricht University and combined it with the Socratic Method. I wanted my students to think further than what they read and apply it accordingly. Thus, we used a case file and hypothetical situations in class to further their learnings. Additionally, I served as thesis adviser and thesis defense panelist to many students. If I may share, teaching was a fulfilling endeavor. I truly took heart in correcting my students’ papers, editing my thesis advisees’ drafts, etc. and I could only hope that I made a positive change in their lives.
While being a faculty member and lecturer, I made thereafter the decision that changed my life.
I remember being asked to represent the law school in the Criminal Code Committee meetings of the Department of Justice. During these meetings, I had the pleasure of meeting the representatives then of the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Mr. Paul Schaeffer and Ms. Caroline Lee, which was sponsoring the Criminal Code project. I met likewise Prof. Dr. Ulrich Sieber, who was invited by the Foundation to give a lecture to the members of the Criminal Code Committee members. Maybe because I was fresh out of LL.M. studies and really interested in academic work and research, I truly enjoyed exchanging ideas then with the members of the Criminal Code Committee and especially with Prof. Sieber. I understood also the themes he was explaining to all of us back then. And in between these sessions, he asked me if I would be interested in pursuing doctoral research in the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg, Germany where he was then currently a director. So after discussing the plans with Mr. Schaeffer, and my credentials being acceptable to the university and the institute, the green light was given for me to pursue doctoral studies in Germany. The foundation would sponsor my first year in the institute and then I will have a contract from the institute for the years that follow. I just needed to first study the German language as a prerequisite.
The decision to pursue doctoral research abroad was not taken lightly by my family. In fact, they were against this idea. They did not want me to leave. It was only my father, who, after a few more conversations with him, became convinced to let me go.
After juggling six to eight months of superintensive courses in the Goethe Institute in Makati, Philippines with my daily grind as a lawyer, I finally went to Germany on July 2015 to be first a guest researcher in the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law. I was the first and only Filipino in the institute. This brought back memories when I studied in the Netherlands. I was again in foreign soil and in a well-established and well-known research institute. Although there was not really any spoken expectation, I knew I had to deliver. There was again the innate pressure to prove myself and do my best to excel. And in the five years that I have been a doctoral researcher, I did my best to leave a mark. I engaged myself in international conferences and seminars, presented to an international audience numerous times, took the opportunity to collaborate with other members of the academe, as well as became active as the Ph.D. representative in our institute and Deputy Humanities Section Head with the PhDnet, the network of all doctoral researchers in the Max Planck Society. I did not also stop from being a thesis adviser to some students in the Ateneo Law School. I even took the time to always give lectures in the Clinical Legal Education class whenever I am back home. Maybe it was just my personality but I was highly proactive. I aimed to give more. It was not easy though. As I wrote in the Acknowledgments part of my soon-to-be published book, the entire journey of doing my doctoral research can bring you to the highest peaks of light but also to the deepest crevices of darkness. Based on my experience, undertaking doctoral research can be a lonely endeavor because you are mostly alone in your thoughts. Your colleagues or even your doctoral supervisor (Prof. Sieber became my doctoral supervisor by the way) can only help to a certain degree because your topic is your own. There were times when you would feel that you have lost your self-worth and yet other people won’t understand or even try to understand you because they are not on your shoes. The loneliness notwithstanding, I pushed forward. I knew I had to finish because for me there was just too much at stake. It was not just the glory of being the first and only Filipina doing this kind of specialization but also the implicit burden that I needed to do this for myself and others who wanted to follow my footsteps. Opportunities such as this did not come aplenty and often times, even if you wanted to grab the opportunity, it does not come easily. People might not be too aware but in foreign lands equal opportunities are not necessarily truly equal and you need double – or even triple – the effort to be acknowledged and recognized. Being Filipino and a woman here made me realize those things. I could not still wrap my head around it but I admit that I have encountered numerous times being caught in big boys’ clubs, of being not one of the favored, and having to really stand on your own. But with God’s grace I am still pulling through and still standing. I re-realized that I am not truly alone but I am standing strong with my Almighty Father, who has guided me and helped me go through sun-scorched lands. Without Him, I would have faltered and given up.
I obtained my Doctor of Laws degree from the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg with a grade of magna cum laude in both my doctoral thesis and Rigorosum. My research focuses on the development of mutual legal assistance in criminal matters between and within the ASEAN and the EU. Through a comparative criminal law approach, I compared the regional frameworks with their respective member state frameworks and with one other, including a comparison of the law in the books v. the law in practice, to give meaningful and effective recommendations for international cooperation in criminal matters. I would say that my analysis is not only legal but likewise historical and socio-political because I took the pains of looking into the respective historical developments, functional frameworks, etc. to understand better the underpinnings of each regional organization. I hope at this moment that my research and upcoming publication would break ground and provide room for further discussion on the topic.
Other than this, I was also engaged in research about law and technology. In particular, I have been part of publications and international conferences involving cross-border exchange and access to online evidence in criminal matters. This includes questions on privacy, data protection, and other defense rights. Interestingly, these are subject areas people often take for granted because of the convenience technology brings. It brings joy to engage in academic exchange with professors, other members of the academe, and practitioners. It makes me also happier when I am able to make myself understandable to everyone and bring light to issues that are often neglected by the general public. It can be challenging though as it takes skill of being able to translate into laymen’s words technical and legal terms. Often times researchers or lawyers like me are too caught up in our legal jargons or legal bubble but should we want to make positive change, we should be able to get out of our comfort zones and reach out to the general public and make our advocacies clear and understandable.
And now that we are here, I hope that in using what I know and what I have learned throughout the years, I can share my personal insights. So my background story may have been a bit long, but hopefully you will stick around to support the things this blog has to offer in the next coming days.
The author, Dr. iur. Atty. Ma. Angela Leonor Aguinaldo, J.D., LL.M., will be writing a regular column/blog for eaglenews.ph. With her knowledge and expertise in international law, international criminal law, criminology, forensics and digital evidence, issues surrounding law and technology, as well as on ASEAN and EU matters, and her passion to help others understand these complex issues better, she will analyze current world issues and even give her take on pop culture. As can be gleaned from the title of her column/blog, “Angel” as her friends and loved ones know her, is a fan of the Arkham games and the caped crusader is her favorite superhero.