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El Cid Butuyan: The boy from Isabela who conquered World Bank & Harvard |


El Cid Butuyan: The boy from Isabela who conquered World Bank & Harvard

NEW BEGINNINGS - The Philippine Star

Everybody takes a journey. How far one goes is, most of the time, dependent on one’s resolute will to succeed. One’s drive is directly proportional to one’s feat.

For instance, El Cid Butuyan, 41, started his expedition to life at the Ramon Central School, a public elementary school in a second-class municipality of Isabela in northern Philippines. He never thought then that his dreams would bring him to Harvard University as a professor of a course called Transnational Corruption or to World Bank where he works as a senior litigation specialist.

His journey to World Bank and Harvard may be, in his own words, “improbable and serendipitous,” but the underlying inertia that has turbo-propped him to be where he is now is all summed up in his drive to succeed.

That he is now enjoying some sort of a rock-star treatment in Harvard or that he is a force to reckon with at the World Bank is already getting ahead of the tale. This is El Cid’s story, which led him to an advocacy of fighting poverty through good governance.


The start of the journey

In Ramon, Isabela where he came from, El Cid, born to an agriculturist farmer and a public school teacher, had a front-row seat to poverty in his community. When he turned 13, and to give him better educational opportunities, his parents sent him to his uncle in Pangasinan to study at the Divine Word Urdaneta. For college, he went to UP Diliman in 1990 and finished Political Science. All the more that his mind was exposed to social issues. In 1995, he entered the UP College of Law, where he excelled in academics and co-curricular activities and became the editor of the prestigious Philippine Law Journal.

After graduating with honors from the College of Law and passing the Bar in 1999, El Cid was courted by exceptional law firms in Makati but he opted to work for the Supreme Court. Expectedly, El Cid handled cases involving social issues. One of the important cases he handled was the historic Philippine decision upholding the constitutionality of title to ancestral lands by indigenous people.

His best friend since their college days and classmate at UP Law, Sen. Sonny Angara, said, “Cid was always a brilliant student throughout Law school, graduating near the top of the class. In many ways, he reminds me of my dad (former Sen. Edgardo Angara), a bright boy from the province looking to succeed through the Law and getting his break at UP.”

In 2001, while still in his twenties, El Cid was one of the private prosecutors in the landmark Estrada impeachment trial. He was also one of those who walked out when they felt “public accountability had been turned into a charade.” That defiant act snowballed the end of Estrada’s tenure in Malacañang.

“He was also very hardworking. While others could cite and memorize legal provisions, Cid was always about the law’s spirit or rationale. He always sought to understand the logic behind the law and you could see him come up with very creative legal arguments,” added Angara, who is also a lawyer.


The journey progresses

El Cid’s very good friend, Jan Chavez-Arceo (who works for the Department of Justice on issues concerning human trafficking, child abuse and online exploitation), told me that Harvard Law School was so impressed by his outstanding credentials and strong commitment to public interest that the prestigious Ivy League university in 2003 offered El Cid an EALS (East Asian Legal Studies) and Graduate Program Scholarship for a master’s degree in International Law. “At Harvard,” Jan said, “El Cid did not only excel in academics, he also realized that international institutions are the crucial catalyst for ending mass poverty and fighting corruption on a global scale.”

He finished his stint at the Harvard School of Law and thereafter he joined World Bank at its headquarters in Washington DC in 2004. “When I joined World Bank, it was at an important policy crossroad. The bank’s projects were located in the world’s poorest countries where democracy, good governance and public accountability were a rare commodity,” he said.

His mettle was tested at the World Bank. The Harvard School of Law website cites that as a senior litigation specialist at the World Bank, Integrity Vice Presidency (INT), El Cid is tasked to investigate and prosecute fraud and corruption in World Bank projects. Before joining INT, he was a counsel at the legal department and performed tasks in the World Bank’s early sanctions reform and anti-corruption efforts.

He has become, to this very day, one of World Bank’s young heroes in the fight against poverty.

“Corruption kills. It is not a mere financial crime that has no victim. It deprives the poor of generational opportunities for betterment and affects them the most. Corruption is thus both regressive and oppressive and it is not inevitable or inescapable,” he said. This is the same tenet he teaches his students at Harvard School of Law.


The International Law professor

El Cid was coy to admit that he has what other people will consider a “rock-star” status in Harvard. “My experience is actually the opposite of the rock-star syndrome. For me, it is an immensely humbling experience working with brilliant minds and very promising students. One becomes measured, careful, tempered and very conscious (in front of these students). At the same time, there is a push to be dynamic, innovative and pro-active to constantly propose a fresh approach, offer a new narrative or share a compelling critique. (My teaching job) offers a very good tension,” he said.

His teaching style, he said, is very participatory. “I engage with students on narratives to accentuate the real life impact of theories and principles we study (about global corruption),” he said. El Cid added, “I don’t buy it when lawyers tell me that their professional obligations compel them to do certain things and use that as an excuse for unethical behavior.”


A beautiful mind, a beautiful soul

How does El Cid relax his beautiful mind?

“Gardening. I love to work with my hands. I come from a family of farmers and some lawyers — they who work the land and like handling dung. It’s a good mix,” he said.

El Cid was quick to add, “I am loyal to my wife.” He is married to Joyce Timbol Gomez and they have three very young children, Ellyce, Joelle and Siggy.

At home, which is in Chevy Chase, Maryland, El Cid impresses upon his children that “all they need to learn in life, they will learn in pre-school.” The concept of corruption and how to ward it off, it seems, are embedded in kindergarten lessons. “In pre-school,” he pointed out, “you are taught to treat others fairly. You are taught not to grab, not to push. You learn to clean after your mess. And you don’t pick your nose (have some self-respect).”

He also teaches his children the lesson imparted to him by his mother Zosima Ruiz and father David Butuyan: “Go wherever you are needed most.”

And so El Cid went to the “world” where he can fight poverty through good governance and accountability. The risks are high, sure; the pressures seemingly insurmountable.

But El Cid Butuyan continues his journey — unflinchingly.


(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at

I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed Sunday!)

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