Destined to serve

Together with friends, a young lawyer from Mindanao builds a practice that is familial, diverse and innovative.

Joselito Thomas P. Baena
Rama Baena Tan & Ang Law Offifices

“We put our feet in the shoes of our clients…then we try to see the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ from their point of view. We would craft the ‘how’ as if the problem of our clients is ours.”

Joselito Thomas P. Baena was around five years old when he discovered what he would go on to become later in life.

Child of Surigao

The grandson of prominent journalist and educator Joselito S. Paloma, the president of Northeastern Mindanao Colleges (Nemco) in Surigao province and publisher of The Surigao Star, as well as Visayan newspaper, Ang Mantabunon, the younger Joselito or Jopep as he is known by family and friends, was raised by his mother Josette (now Josette Kang) single-handedly until he was 11 years old.

His earliest memories consist of visiting Nemco, which his great-grandfather Jose O. Paloma founded. The Palomas also used to be a politically active family. They were particularly instrumental in shaping the landscape of Surigao.

Joselito says that his grandfather “stood by his principles and listened to his conscience.” According to him, Paloma exposed the military in relation to a massacre which eliminated an entire sitio and implicated prominent politicians. He was assassinated and was described as “the Ninoy of Mindanao.” Joselito was named for his grandfather and so brought joy and hope back to their family.

Growing up, Joselito remembers being looked after by his grandparents and great grandparents. It was on a day while he was at the printing press of The Surigao Star in the company of one of his grandmother’s staff, ‘Nang Nita,’ that Joselito found his path.

(Below) Joselito (left) with Ferdinand Sia, president of Double Dragon Properties and Victor P. Lazatin, former managing partner and colleague at ACCRALAW and (above) with buddy and business partner Nico Bryan Tan. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

“She [Nang Nita] was doing some paperwork, while I was looking at a photo of a big house in a magazine,” he recalls. “I told her that I wanted to live in that big house. Nang Nita told me that the President lived there. So, I asked how does one become President? She replied that one had to be a lawyer. That’s when I started to dream of becoming one.”

Fast forward to 2012, Joselito landed work at the prestigious Angara Abello Concepcion Regala and Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW), where he worked for eight years. “I had the opportunity to be mentored by great men, leaders in the legal industry,” Joselito says. “I worked with the likes of the late Senator Edgardo J. Angara, Rogelio A. Vinluan, Victor P. Lazatin and Leland R. Valladolid.“(They were) great litigators, brilliant lawyers.”

So a seed formed, which he nurtured with the help of his best friend and business partner, Nico Bryan Tan, a lawyer himself.

“Nico and I are like brothers,” he says, “Every night we would talk about our day, our priorities in life and our aspirations.” Eventually, with two other former ACCRALAW colleagues, Mikel Rama and Terence John Ang, they established Rama Baena Tan & Ang Law Offices. While it is headquartered in Cebu, the firm functions with support staff in Metro Manila and Central Luzon. They offer legal services for a variety of industries: export, retail, construction, real estate, finance, information technology, automobiles, hotel and resort, food and beverage, as well as international and domestic shipping.

Joselito takes pride in the fact that their firm caters to family and friends, thus making the quality of their services more customized and more personal. “We put our feet in the shoes of our clients, who are close to us, then we try to see the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ from their point of view,” he explains. “We would craft the ‘how’ as if the problem of our clients is ours.”

Family oriented firm

“How we do things is also different,” he continues. “My partners and I interact like brothers, best friends, and we operate like a family business or a barkada (gang). Meetings are relaxed, with free flowing conversation on personal stuff and business.”

The firm, Joselito describes, is open and diverse, with employees coming from different corners of the country. Some are from prominent families, while others have more modest backgrounds. It is innovative, and as a young and largely technology-dependent firm, they tend to experiment with work processes to find what suits them best. It is balanced, family-oriented and laidback, a place where work-life balance is valued and the firm is more family than company.

Among these characteristics, perhaps one harks back to Joselito’s youth. “I was given a seat at the table,” he says. “I was allowed to participate in family discussions; my opinion was sought and considered.”

It appears that this 34-year-old lawyer does the same for his colleagues: “We organize ourselves into different areas of practice. Within these areas you have lawyers and non-lawyers. Everyone has a seat at the table, access to information, a say on issues that affect us all. Decisions are arrived at through deliberation and consensus.”

Managing a fledgling firm that is only a few months over a year old is not without its challenges, especially due to the Covid-19 crisis. Joselito says: “The pandemic magnified logistical challenges of working with lawyers and staff in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The disruptions in travel, the lockdowns and even delay in courier services affected our ability to collaborate, get staff messengerial or docket support from our physical office and develop team dynamics.

“However, our reliance on technology and the strong personal bond of the partners provided the impetus not only to overcome [pandemic-related] challenges, but propel our group to greater heights,” he declares. “In fact, our business grew when the pandemic struck. We had the technology solution that allowed us to reach out to our clients and deliver legal services despite decreased mobility.”

“When industries and business started to shift to the digital ecosystem, we were already there waiting for them.”

Being partner in his own venture has allowed Joselito to spend ample time with his family. He has a strict rule of not working after six p.m., leaving his work phone on his desk and switching to one whose number is known only to his wife, Anjeli, his mother and grandmother. When he plays with his daughter, Georgina, this no-gadgets rule applies as well.

Joselito spends his free time reading on his Kindle, walking the dogs and sometimes zooming around town on electric scooters with Nico.

Asked what happened to his dream of becoming President, he says: “I realized that the job requires a lot more. Being a lawyer is not enough. From where I am right now, I am already in a position to help and protect the people around me. With my firm, family, friends and my community, there are a lot of pressing problems and challenges that require my attention.”

With a single-mindedness and heart for service, there is only onward and upward for Joselito Thomas P. Baena.


BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) Governor Benjamin Diokno. Low key, brilliant, and effective

Excel in the legal practice and be a good husband and father

ESL (English as Second Language) teacher

Read and answer emails. Coffee. Chat with my partners Mikel, Nico and Terence. Online play school with my daughter Georgina.

I cook the best sinuglaw, which is kilawin na isda (fish ceviche) with inihaw na liempo (grilled pork belly), people management and problem-solving

About 30 minutes a day