Soft-spoken and unassuming in his pose and stance, Ramon Antonio P. Paterno, Esq. belies the sometimes accepted notion of what lawyers are—high-fallutin, garrulous, and always speaking in “legalese.” But don’t let this notion fool you; on his records that speak volumes, Paterno may be graded a lawyer “par excellence!” He obtained his Bachelor degree from the University of the Philippines’ College of Law in 1970 and his Masters from the Harvard Law School in 1975. At Harvard, he and his wife, Belit, were credited as the first Filipino married couple to obtain their LL.M.s. Paterno is a life member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines since 2009.
While at UP, Paterno was an editor of the “Philippine Law Journal” and a columnist for the “Philippine Collegian.” He was declared the “National Impromptu Speaking Champion” at the National Union of Students Grand Speech Festival in 1967 and was declared “Best Debater” as captain of the National Champion Graduate Level Debate Team at the same NUS festival. He was the recipient of the Wenceslao Q. Vinson Award for Leadership.
In 1970, he headed the seven-member Philippine Youth Delegate to the First United Nations’ World Youth Assembly held in 1970 in New York, N.Y. He passed the Bar Examinations in 1971.
Paterno’s professional career in the Philippines included serving as Senior Associate at the law firm of SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Castillo from 1973 to 1978. He served for two years as assistant vice president and chief legal counsel of the Philippines Holding Corp. His legal career in the U.S. included stint as Summer law clerk in 1975 for Ropes & Gray in Boston, Ma., at Stagiere, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in 1975 at its office in Washington, D.C. and in 1976 at its office in New York City. Prior to his retirement in 2008, Paterno served as Senior Counsel at the Legal Department of the International Finance Corporation.
Paterno has been active in various community organizations including the UP Philippine Alumni Association of MWDC, IFC-World Bank Group/IMF Filipino Association, Ateneo Alumni Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Philippine American Bar Association, and the Order of the Knights of Rizal. In 1993, he was a Philippine Presidential “Outstanding Overseas Filipinos” awardee (“Banaag” category).
Q. The sound of your last name harkens back to the revolutionary years when the Philippines was seeking independence from Spain, how are you related to one of the country’s heroes, Pedro A. Paterno?
A. Pedro Alejandro Paterno, [first] President of the Malolos Congress, is my great-uncle. His sister, Dolores Paterno, composer of the song “Sampaguita,” (La Flor de Manila; in English, the flower of Manila) is my great-aunt. My paternal grandfather Dr. Maximino Paterno was Pedro A. Paterno’s younger brother. I have a First-Day-of-Issue stamp honoring Pedro A. Paterno as the “Diplomat of the Revolution,” which was presented to my father, he being the closest descendant; Pedro A. Paterno had no offspring. I have a music sheet of Dolores Paterno’s “Sampaguita,” dated 1880.
Q. Pedro A. Paterno is credited with temporarily keeping for posterity the core of the National Library’s Filipiniana collection including the original copies of Dr. Jose Rizal’s works, what guided you in perpetuating Paterno’s and Rizal’s legacies by founding the Dr. Jose Rizal Youth Awards?
A. Dr. Rizal is the foremost alumnus of Ateneo (then, a college). I am a graduate of Ateneo de Manila University. According to the Ateneo Jesuit historian Rev. John N. Schumacher, Pedro A. Paterno—also an Ateneo alumnus—was the first to raise Filipino national consciousness through his novel,”Ninay.” My history background helped instill in me a keen sense of history celebrating Paterno’s and Rizal’s contributions.
A. My Dad graduated from the University of Santo Tomas’ College of Medicine, summa cum laude, and topped the Medical Board examinations. He did further medical training at the University of Paris medical school, specializing in Radiology. My Mom, also a UST M.D. alumna, finished 4th at the Medical Board examinations. My father served as president of the Philippine Cancer Society. Both my parents, engaged in a lifetime of humanitarian service, directly inspired my community service.
Q. When, why, and how did you decide that you wanted to be a lawyer?
A. Both my parents were doctors, so I took up pre-med, before majoring in A.B. History. During my first two years as a law student at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, I was teaching Philippine History and Government, at the nearby Ateneo High School at Loyola Heights. From their exemplary lives, my parents instilled in me a keen sense of fairness and justice, hence my lifelong passion for both law and history.
Q. Among the numerous awards and honors you have received in your career and profession, which do you cherish most and why?
A. I cherish most the “UPAA Distinguished Alumnus Award for Development Finance,” given in 2010. I was recruited out of Manila, expressly as a Filipino lawyer, by the International Finance Corporation’s General Counsel (IFC, a part of World Bank Group). Although I knew I would be leaving my beloved Philippines to join IFC at its headquarters in Washington, DC, I felt I would still be directly serving my country all throughout as a Filipino lawyer.
Q. Among your extracurricular, community, and volunteerism projects, which one provided you the most self-fulfilling experience?
A. My being (incumbent) Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the UPAA-DCMDVA Educational Trust; I had founded the Scholarship Trust in 1983-1985 as President of the Association and raised substantial scholarship funds with my wife Belit which I administered. To date the Trust has benefitted 16 UP-Diliman Scholars (for 4-to-5 academic years scholarship), including the 16th scholar my wife and I are currently funding.
Q. When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see?
A. Myself, happy together with my family, Belit and Josemaria, our son, now an accomplished M.D.