Ana Theresa Cervantes
After years of studying law, Tere Cervantes threw in the towel and turned her back on the field. Or so she thought, not quite realizing that development work is also defending people’s basic rights.
When a would-be lawyer takes a detour
There is a word for people who seek more work. Ana Theresa Cervantes, or Tere to most, is one of those people—driven.
The eldest of two siblings in a family of three, the senior operations assistant recently transferred to the South Asia Urban and Water Division (SAUW) after working for one and a half years in the Urban Sector Group (USG) Secretariat under the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department (SDCC). Her main motivator, she said, is the satisfaction of steering her career to the project analyst stream.
“I think I got used to operations work back when I first started, especially the simultaneous deadlines. I think I missed it and yearned for it. They said I’m a masochist for wanting this kind of grueling work. But I guess it’s because that’s how I was trained and I want to be more involved in projects,” she mused.
Tere joined ADB in 2012 as an operations assistant in SAUW, spending over three years with the unit before moving to SDCC. Prior to joining the bank, she was to some degree finding her place in the world, working at the Philippine National Police headquarters and eventually at the Canadian Provincial Nominee and Immigrations Services. Before and in between those jobs her aim was to become a lawyer. She wanted to specialize in family law, look into issues of succession and get knee-deep into the drama commonly besetting families. A class on commercial law during her senior year foiled her plans, however. And despite several attempts, she had to self-adjudicate, settle her losses (mental and financial), and try something else.
Her decision ended up well. While not the type to map out her life, she admitted that she finds operations exciting and would like to become a project analyst in the future. At the time of the interview – her last day in SDCC – she already was looking forward to the projects, recalling the time she supported a water supply technical assistance. A recent training in the Netherlands also had her wishing that some of Rotterdam’s innovative climate adaptation measures could be replicated in the Philippines.
Tere may not have become the lawyer she initially intended to be, but here she is making a stand on what matters to her and for people working in ADB and beyond.
“My experience in law school helped, particularly not giving up so easily even if what you’re doing is difficult or even if you have to do so many things… I feel that no matter the circumstances I always have to give my best.”
Ana Theresa Cervantes
Senior Operations Assistant,
South Asia Urban and Water Division
Congratulations on your new role. Why did you switch to operations?
Tere: Before I moved to SDCC, part of my role before in SAUW was handling administration of technical assistance work. So even if I was an operations assistant I was exposed to TA support. When I transferred to SDCC, under the Urban Sector Group, I no longer had that. It so happened that in this new position, they have this opportunity, and not to mention it’s for an assistant of the Project Administration Unit (PAU) head. Basically aside from portfolio management, monitoring contracts awarded and disbursements, there’s additional TA and loan admin assistance. So I jumped on the chance to go back and do this kind of work.
What makes TA and loan assistance interesting for you?
Tere: I feel I can learn more when doing this kind of work. However, that’s not to belittle the role I had in SDCC, or the assistant stream as it is known. It’s just that when I was supporting TAs I really enjoyed it. There was this feeling of being immersed in operations and working for development. In my new role, there are additional responsibilities that are traditionally done by an analyst, so it’s nice and exciting. I would like to pursue this analyst stream and be more involved in projects.
I remember the very first TA project I helped with was the Trincomalee Integrated Urban Development Project in Sri Lanka. This was by Vijay [Padmanabhan] (who used to be one of Tere’s supervisors in SAUW and later when she was in SDCC and he was then USG chief—ed.). He also had another TA on Delhi water supply, and although I wasn’t the analyst I was told to start the recruitment process. He shared what the steps are so that, he said, I would already know it once I become an analyst.
Have you always planned on working for development? Where did you start?
Tere: I took up Political Science in the University of the Philippines, and I went to law school in Far Eastern University after. But I put a stop to all that craziness, the frantic life of a working law student, when I was no longer doing well on my fourth year. It was too much. I kept on trying to pass my commercial law class without success, and I was at the point where I was crying already because I was so close to finishing but expenses were piling up. Studying in law school doesn’t come cheap after all. My mother said I should probably stop. I know that it was a waste to throw it away, and many people told me that, but it was okay. It wasn’t meant to be.
After that I got a job working for the Philippine National Police (PNP) at the headquarters in Crame. It was a newly created division. We were working on pre-charge investigation. These are complaints by civilians against PNP personnel. I was in charge of statistics; so every month I would give a report on the number of PNP personnel with administrative cases. These were organized into types of offense, rank, etc. At that time, extortion cases were under the spotlight, so these were extracted from the data.
Why did you join ADB?
Tere: After working for PNP, I worked for over three years at the Canadian Provincial Nominee and Immigration Services. Since their office was in Ortigas, I would always see the ADB building. I told myself one day I would be in one of those offices. And then wouldn’t you know it there was a vacancy. I applied. After a year, they finally called. I don’t how it happened, why I got in. I was just searching online and thought I’d take a chance, that maybe I could do it. I think it was all through prayer!
Did you have any expectations when you joined ADB or how has it been since you started?
Tere: ADB wasn’t on my radar before I joined. When I was finally on board, it was nice to discover a supportive culture. I’m glad there’s a lot of people you can approach and they are willing to help. Of course, you also need to take initiative. It shouldn’t be spoon-feeding since this is not a training institution. There should be an effort to learn. But I think I really was lucky that the divisions I’ve worked for had national officers who naturally guided you, even the analysts despite their heavy workloads.
Speaking of heavy workloads, aren’t you intimidated by your new responsibility in SAUW? Or perhaps your law background helped?
Tere: I don’t mind the challenge of operations work—that’s how I started. I think I got used to it, especially the simultaneous deadlines. In fact, I think I missed it and yearned for it. People said I’m a masochist for wanting to go back to this kind of grueling work. But I guess it’s because that’s how I was trained when I started.
And yes, my experience in law school helped, particularly not giving up so easily even if what you’re doing is difficult or even if you have to do so many things. What I realized is it’s not an issue if something is hard to do or if the boss is difficult, it’s just work. I feel that no matter the circumstances I always have to give my best.
Can you share with us your future goals?
Tere: To be honest, I’m not the type of person who has a life plan. For now what I hope to achieve is that project analyst stream. This will take a few years and I know I have to develop my skills set first. I also want to enjoy my retirement. I just feel that you also need to rest, and so if I need to do something to spend my time then maybe I’ll open a small business. And travel. Those are my goals.