Broke and broken: Working student recalls long journey to becoming a lawyer
MANILA, Philippines – Christian Jay Millena, 30, has gone a long way since he started his journey in law school.
From working different jobs to borrowing money from his friends just to make ends meet, he has proven that no obstacle is too big to hurdle.
His story went viral after he posted a series of tweets narrating how he survived law school.
At an early age, Millena, a resident of Daraga, Albay, dreamed of becoming a lawyer. He graduated college and earned his license as a professional teacher in 2009.
He moved to Manila with the hopes of pursuing law immediately after college. He worked as a teacher and moved to a business process outsourcing (BPO) company to pay for his needs and support his family.
In 2012 he passed the entrance exam at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law. He said he had to save up and prepare for his studies.
Working in a sales company at that time, he was asked to resign when his boss learned about the news.
“I was so devastated that time because I needed the job to pursue law. But I understood my employer. My job required a lot of fieldwork, and law school would prevent me from performing well at work,” Millena told Rappler in an interview.
The debts he took out to survive
Unaware of UP's Student Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), he was categorized as Bracket A until second year, which meant he needed to pay P1,500 per unit or about P25,000 per semester. In the years after, he was rebracketed to B and C.
Since the program's implementation in 1989 and amendment in 2007, STFAP has been continuously criticized for its supposed ineffectiveness and inadequacy in democratizing “access and admission to [UP's] academic programs while promoting fairness and social justice in the University.” This was later on replaced by the Socialized Tuition Scheme (STS) in 2014.
Millena was able to pay for the reservation slot and his tuition fee with the help of his friends who lent him money while he was unemployed at that time.
“During my first semester...I didn’t have books or codals. All I had was this old Revised Penal Code and Civil Code that I borrowed from a cousin who also studied law years ago. It was difficult keeping up with my classes because I couldn’t study since I really didn’t have materials to read,” he said.
Even when he finally got a job as a content editor in a company, he said his salary still wasn’t enough. In the second semester, he was only able to enroll because of UP’s loan program. (READ: I survived UP)
“I went to class hungry most of the time. I usually just had coffee and biscuits for dinner since my classes were in the evening. There were days when it’s the only 'meal' I’d have for the day.... I also had friends who lent me money. I even had a friend who didn’t ask to be paid until I finished law school,” Millena recounted.
To settle his previous loan, he initially thought of filing a leave of absence on his second year in law school until his finances got better.
Surprisingly, he received a call from Gaby Concepcion, who was then his persons and family relations professor and professorial lecturer. She was offering to help.
“On the last day of enrollment, my professor called and told me she’d pay for my loan so I could enroll.... I got a 2.5 in her class, so it wasn’t like I was a really deserving student. But she insisted on paying for my loan, and since I also wanted law school so bad, I accepted her offer,” he recalled.
so yung envelope na ipinadala ni Ma’am Gaby ay may lamang 25K. Secret namin to dapat pero kebs. Last day of enrolment na yun. Ginamit ko ang pera na ibinigay niya para ibayad sa loan ko nung first year para makapagloan ako ulit. Tuloy ang laban. pic.twitter.com/J1sPfg35Ub— (un)christian jay (@jaymillenarya) May 26, 2019
In his 3rd year in law school, his classmates contributed money for him to be able to enroll.
eto sila. nilista ko talaga at itinago ang listahang yan. pinuntahan pa ako ng kaklase kong si Bing sa opisina ko sa Banawe para pilitin akong mag-enrol at iabot sa akin ang perang naipon nila. enrolment na noon at wala na talaga ako balak mag-enrol. pic.twitter.com/rROh25Q65R— (un)christian jay (@jaymillenarya) May 26, 2019
In 2013, Millena worked as an executive assistant for his friend in a government agency. After a year, he transferred to a non-governmental organization.
Millena shared that it was "extremely difficult" having to work and study at the same time.
On top of law school, Millena, being the 3rd child among 6 siblings, provided financial support for his family back in Bicol, especially for his father’s medical expenses because he had diabetes mellitus and chronic kidney disease.
One tragedy after another
In 2014, his 17-year-old sister, who also had diabetes, suddenly died after complaining of severe stomach ache. After a year, his 13-year-old sister got hospitalized in the intensive care unit (ICU) due to a kidney problem.
“Dahil may guilt feelings pa rin ako na hindi ko naabutang buhay ang isa kong kapatid sa ospital noong 2014, ipinangako ko noon na hindi ko iiwan ang isa ko pang kapatid na nag-aagaw-buhay sa ospital,” Millena recalled.
(Because I felt guilty for not being able to see my 17-year-old sister in the hospital while she was still alive, I promised myself that I wouldn't leave my other sister who was in a critical condition.)
Millena thought of taking a leave of absence from law school, given the difficult situation he was in. But his civil procedure professor disagreed and permitted him to take as many absences as needed on the one condition that he'd catch up on his pending work when he came back.
Although he wanted to resign from his work, he needed money to pay for his sister’s medical expenses. But in March 2015 he resigned to focus on his studies and his family. Two months later, he decided to take a job at the House of Representatives.
Millena would usually travel back to Albay every weekend to check on his sick sister. As the days went by, his absences piled up. He was only able to go to the university during midterm exams.
He said he didn’t request for special exams because he didn’t want to be treated differently due to his circumstances.
When his sister’s medical condition improved, he thought of going back to Manila to attend to his studies. But while he was studying for his class, he received a text message that his sister had already passed away.
With the help of his classmates, he was able to take a flight back home to attend his sister’s funeral.
“Lubhang napakasaklap lalo’t hindi ko man lang naipagluksa ang pagkamatay ng kapatid ko, pero salamat na rin at nakaraos kahit papano,” Millena recalled on Twitter.
(It was extremely unfortunate because I wasn't even able to grieve for my sister's death, but I am still thankful that I was able to get through it somehow.)
Due to his sister's confinement at the ICU for two months, he incurred a huge debt. Still, he was thankful to the people who helped his family.
Things eventually got better for him, as he got a new job and continued law school.
In his 4th year, Millena expressed how his father was excited for his graduation.
“Sabi niya, mag-eeroplano siya sa graduation ko dahil hindi na kaya ng katawan niya ang mahabang biyahe. Kakailanganin niya rin daw umuwi agad dahil hindi niya p'wedeng ma-miss ang schedule ng dialysis niya,” Millena said, referring to his father who was undergoing dialysis thrice a week at that time. (READ: 90 days of dialysis per year now covered by PhilHealth)
(He said he was going to take an airplane for my graduation because his body can't endure long commutes. He'll have to go home immediately because he can't miss the schedule of his dialysis.)
But a year before he graduated in 2017, his father passed away. Millena went home to Albay for the funeral and traveled back to Manila to take his final exams, which he successfully passed.
He recalled how he lost his interest in finishing law school in his 5th year, but he said he was most hurt when a professor accused him of using the deaths of his sisters and father to “get away with things in law school.”
But Millena continued to draw stregth from the people who believed in him.
His family and relatives had always been supportive of him. In fact, on his graduation day, they travelled to Manila just to see him receive his diploma.
He took the bar examinations that same year, but because he prioritized his work more than his review, he failed the examination on his first take.
“Marahil sa dami nga ng pinagdaanan ko sa law school ay pinanghinaan na rin ako. Mas pinili ko rin na matapos muna ang pagpapa-renovate ng bahay namin dahil alam kong iyan ang pangarap ng tatay ko noon pa man,” Millena stressed.
(Maybe it's because of the many things I've been through in law school...I chose to focus on my work so the renovation of our house could be completed since it was my father's dream before he died.)
Ending up victorious
But this did not stop him from giving the bar examination a second try. Millena was one of the 1,800 examinees who passed the 2018 bar exams. (READ: 'A dream come true': 2018 Bar passers celebrate success)
“There were several times I almost gave up. But every time I thought about it, I think of my youngest sister.... Every time something happens, there’s always something worse that follows. But at the same time, I realize that if I made it through the previous trial, there’s no reason I can’t make it through the next,” he said.
Millena shared that with everything that he’s been through, he believed that it was his dream of becoming a lawyer and providing a better life for his family that motivated him.
“I always think that there’s always someone who’s going through [something] worse than I am, so what right do I have to complain?” Millena added.
As a way to give back, he said he wants to help change the lives of others in the same way his family, friends, and professors in law school believed and changed him for the better.
Millena still works at the House of Representatives as a political affairs officer. Now that he is already a lawyer, he is still in the process of figuring out the best career path for him.
“I think I’ll eventually try litigation. But one thing is for sure, I’ll give back to the country and pay my dues,” Millena said. – Rappler.com