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Law and the Digital World: An Interview with Atty. Belarmino

By: Archiebald Faller Capila

In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Jose “Joe” Sutton Belarmino II gives us a glimpse as to how he studies this aspect of the law as well as its application. Currently pursuing his MSc in Cyber Security and Digital Forensics at the University of Westminster in London, Atty. Belarmino shares his thoughts on legal technology and security.

In this day and age where a transition to digital means and platforms has become obligatory, there is now a need to further study such a seemingly untapped yet used realm. The current health crisis has brought about changes to almost all professions—the legal field not exempted to the same. Now that the legal profession is shifting towards virtual platforms, we need more lawyers who specialize in such fields so as to ensure that legal services are not hampered.

It is of common knowledge that while we already have laws and policies strengthening the legal backbone of online transactions, there is still a need to improve them. Focusing on the legal aspect of policies alone will not bear fruits if the technical aspect of which are not attended to.

Focusing on this modern field of law could be imperative now that we are all gearing towards the future of the profession. This pandemic has become a turning point that makes us realize that there is more to law than just the physical space we are accustomed to.

But how do we understand something foreign to most? Like every other field of the profession, there is a need to focus on its foundation and branches. Cyber security, data privacy, and other related matters all leading to the digitalization of the profession must be studied in theory and then applied in practice. Legal knowledge as to how these aspects work is not enough. There is a need to dwell into as well the technical and practical aspects of the same.

In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Jose “Joe” Sutton Belarmino II gives us a glimpse as to how he studies this aspect of the law as well as its application. Currently pursuing his MSc in Cyber Security and Digital Forensics at the University of Westminster in London, Atty. Belarmino shares his thoughts on legal technology and security.

Accordingly, Atty. Belarmino shares his experience as a law student, as a lawyer who specializes in data privacy, and his message to all law students and lawyers who wish to specialize in this emerging branch of the legal profession

Barrista Solutions: Who and what inspired you to pursue further studies in law? Looking back, how do you describe your journey as a lawyer today?

Atty. Belarmino: I really went to law school because of my dad. You see, I am a member of the LGBT community. For me, at least, because I couldn’t give him yung pagiging lalake ko, I thought to myself that if I become a lawyer, maybe he will be able to accept me? I really don’t know if he accepted me before. So I pursued law to give my father a reason to be proud of me. Apparently, I fell in love with the study.

You see, at least the way I see it, the legal profession is still a male-dominated venture. At least from my perspective. Being a member of the LGBT, it feels like we always have to prove ourselves. We have to double our efforts in doing the things we do. You have to prove yourself again and again. And in law school, that is exactly what I did.

During the entire course of my study, I was engaged in other activities. I was a member of our Law Student Government for a handful of years. I was also the Associate Editor of our Law Journal. I combine my legal studies with my extracurricular activities. I took Bar 2015 and eventually passed it. I am very thankful to this profession. It’s been a wonderful journey. It has catapulted me to heights I thought I never could reach even at such an early age. Indeed, it’s been a wonderful journey.

Barrista Solutions: What are the lessons that you learned in law school that you continue to reflect upon today?

Atty. Belarmino: Always work hard. One of our dear professors told us that law school is like a walk in the park, but it’s Jurassic Park. I have always been a hard-working individual prior to law school. I believe it’s the key to success. Also, be humble. Even if you are a lawyer, you do not know everything. Law school humbled me. Remember that you do not have a monopoly of knowledge.

Barrista Solutions: If given the chance, what message would you relay to your younger self?

Atty. Belarmino: Slow down a bit. I always feel like I am running out of time. I feel like hindi na ako nagpapahinga. I’ll tell my younger self to not try to control everything as well. Have more fun. There will always come a point in time when you cannot control everything.

Lastly, I will thank myself as well. Because of everything that I have achieved today, where I am now, how I am, and what I have done—I owe it to my younger self. I am proud that I did not go astray. I tried to live by what is right.

Barrista Solutions: You are one of the recipients of the prestigious Chevening Scholarship. Now studying Cyber Security and Digital Forensics, what are the obstacles that you had to go through in order to reach where you stand right now?

Atty. Belarmino: Actually, I was not sure if I was to apply for the Chevening scholarship because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, I submitted my essay. While I was not sure that I wanted to really apply, I knew in my heart where I wanted to go and what I wanted to study. Luckily, I was shortlisted. There were at least 64, 000 applicants all over the world. I am grateful that I was chosen.

Obstacles? I guess, essay-wise, you really want to write about something you want to know. The obstacle was the waiting period because I already had a job offer. It was more of a decision-making problem. In general, the obstacle was really more of getting there.

Barrista Solutions: For you, how important is it that law students and even lawyers focus on this field of law?

Atty. Belarmino: For me, law schools should start teaching technology and law. They should make it a mandatory subject. We moved from the physical space to the digital space tremendously, especially during this pandemic. Data privacy issues are now rampant. You can’t stop technology. We should all take this seriously.

Barrista Solutions: What problems do you go through in your studies at the University of Westminster, London, United Kingdom?

Atty. Belarmino: It’s a daily struggle. It’s a different animal. You see, the language that I speak is very legal. Here, they are using terms more leaning towards the use of technology. I have subjects where I need to learn how to code, ethical hacking, network security, and risk management. It’s all new to me.

I have to double my efforts and educate myself. In order to finish the course. I would be needing a lot of technical knowledge. Sometimes, ayoko na if I am being honest. I am surrounded by classmates who took up computer science and computer engineering for their undergraduate courses. There is always a struggle of being unsure in recitations and quizzes. I am a very outspoken individual but I cannot fully express things now because of the technical terms and knowledge needed. Knowing the legal side is not enough.

Barrista Solutions: What are you looking forward to the most as a practitioner of the law in the near future beyond the current health crisis?

Atty. Belarmino: After this study, I am hoping to work for the private sector. I am looking forward to engaging in risk management or technology. For my professional life, I have always worked for the government. I want to experience a new environment after my further studies. However, I am also looking forward to working with the government on a cyber security law, if given the chance.

I also want to teach. I am looking forward to sharing legal knowledge pertaining to cyber security. I want to establish myself as someone engaged in digital and technology law. In terms of the Philippines, I am hoping that we become more advanced in terms of giving further developed technology to improve the lives of Filipinos.

Barrista Solutions: Personally, how important is the role of law students and law professors in ensuring the quality of legal services in the near future?

Atty. Belarmino: It is of utmost importance. Everything starts with being a law student. Your principles and beliefs in your study will be carried out in practice. One must have strong principles. In practice, there will be a lot of temptations. You will be asked if you are willing to do something outside what’s legal. If you have your principles intact, you will not have a hard time. You are studying law in order to contribute to the development of your country. You are not doing this just for yourself or your family but for everyone else. You must help transform the quality of legal service even if it’s just little by little. Law students, know yourselves as early as know.

Barrista Solutions: During your time, how did you prepare for your Bar exams and what were the major obstacles that you had to go through along the way?

Atty. Belarmino: I started preparing during my 4th year. I plotted my review period. After graduation, I already had my calendar. I did two readings for some of the subjects. For the subjects I believe I was confident at, I only allotted one reading. I used the mirror method in reviewing. I also answered some mock exams.

I went to Jurist. I only attended one lecture. I realized that I was not the listener type of learner. So, I focused on my materials and notes preparing for the Bar. I always made sure that my Saturday and Sunday evenings are spent either watching a movie or drinking.

During the first few weeks of review, I lost my dog. He was in and out of the hospital. Financially, it was hard because that was my responsibility. I had to endure the pain of loss in my review proper as well.

And during those times, I felt like I had a lot of lazy days. There were also a lot of days wherein I felt overconfident. For example, I only allotted one reading for Labor Law. It was my favorite subject. However, upon release of the results, my lowest grade came from Labor. I feel like I was overconfident about that.

Barrista Solutions: What are your tips to all law students out there dreaming of passing and even topping the Bar exams?

Atty. Belarmino: Give it your all. There will be days when you will feel tired, but give it your all nonetheless. You see, the Bar is 70% hard work and 30% luck. You cannot remember eveyrthing you studied, but you can give it your all when it comes to reviewing.

In addition, I also have my personal creed to share with you: FaFaHoHa.

FAITH is needed. Do not let loose of your god or who you believe in. Another is FATE. Passing the Bar is a matter of destiny as well. Never lose HOPE in the process as well. Lastly, HARDWORK is needed in everything you do.

And for all those who want to become lawyers, know why you want to become lawyers first. Try to find your space in the legal world. This is important because your review starts the moment you enter law school. Study hard. No knowledge is too small. Also, balance your life. If you don’t, you’ll eventually get tired.

Take things in stride. If you’ll fail but you did your best, let it be. The difference would be how you get up after you fail. It will always boil down to what you can do to get back up as an individual—as a student of the law.

Be smart when you study. Wag ka lang basa ng basa for the sake na nabasa mo. Study hard, study well, and on top of it all—study smart. Lastly, love what you are doing even if it is difficult. There’s something magical that happens when you do things close to your heart.

*Atty. Belarmino graduated BA Speech Communication, magna cum laude, in 2010, from the University of the Philippines Diliman. He earned his Juris Doctor at the San Beda University Manila - College of Law in 2015 where he also served as President of the Law Student Government. He initially worked as a public defender at the Public Attorney’s Office and Chief of Staff of then Commissioner and now Congresswoman Stella Luz Quimbo. He is now one of the few lawyers engaged in the practice of data privacy law in the country. Prior to his Chevening scholarship, he previously served as Head Executive Assistant, Division Head of the Enforcement Division, Official Spokesperson, and OIC Executive Director of the National Privacy Commission.

Atty. Belarmino hopes to be able to help the country create a cybersecurity and privacy ecosystem for the Philippines that addresses the legal, technical, and operational aspects of privacy and cybersecurity.


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