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In memoriam: Atty. Jonah John Ungab

I knew Atty. Ungab when within barely two months of taking the oath as a lawyer, I accepted a drug case. Apparently he had a reputation among lawyers, drug personalities and law enforcers.
A few months later, I was approached by a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. At that stage the case was already dismissed by the prosecutor’s office. After he knew that I accepted that case, he approached me and told me that he has no problem acknowledging the child (the woman’s main intent, it seemed, was to have the child recognized as his) as long as the DNA test would indicate that the child was his. For a completely different reason, I withdrew from that case, but it was the start of a friendship with Sir John.
Because I was building up my clientele of personalities accused of violations of R.A. 9165, it was inevitable that I find myself now and then sitting beside Sir John in the court room. I was impressed by his ability to juggle 4 to 5 cases in a single morning. I could barely handle 2 hearings in a single morning before the same sala myself.
At times, he would ask me to specially appear for him in certain courts, and I especially enjoyed such requests because his clients pay handsomely. (I was struggling to construct my three-storey house then.)
In August 2016, I decided to resign from the Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB) to focus on my private practice. He was the first one I approached if he was needing a loose partner. He told me he was looking more for an associate, not a partner, but maybe we could meet for lunch and agree on certain things. We agreed to meet for lunch on August 10, 2016. Meanwhile, he asked me to appear for him in a case where the client was surrounded by 5 or 6 personnel with high-powered firearms.
On August 9, 2016, I was in a hearing at Danao City and met (as always by then) Atty. Doris Suralta of the Bactol, Dadivas and Suralta Law Office. She asked me how my practice was going, and I told her I was looking for a firm who would accept a new partner (not associate). By coincidence, BDS Law was looking for a new partner then, in view of the expected transfer to government service of Atty. Suralta (she became the clerk of court of RTC 55 effective January 2017). She told me to visit their office in the afternoon of the next day (i.e. August 10).
I was awed by the kind of clients Atty. Ungab had, and one half of me was itching to join him in high-stakes drugs litigation, but the other half was telling me I was still a greenhorn for such things and should focus on those accused of drugs because somehow the police had to make x number of arrests per month. (I really don’t know if that is true, but almost half of my drug-related clients were arrested past the 20th of the month.)
I opted to wait and see. On the morning of August 10, 2016, I did not text or call him to remind him of our lunch appointment. Lunch came and went but there was no call or SMS from Sir John. In the afternoon I went to the BDS Law Office and was warmly welcomed by Attys. Bactol and Suralta. (I would meet Atty. Dadivas later, but my being on board was agreed in principle.)
Around 3:00 P.M., I was already typing manifestations re change of address from No. 10 Queens Road to Rm 202 JRDC Building when Sir John texted, apologizing that he had a client to attend to, and he had completely forgotten our appointment, and would it be possible that we meet in the evening. I explained that I had already accepted being a partner of Bactol, Dadivas and Suralta, and that I am grateful for the opportunity to be considered in his firm. He replied with a curt, “Ok” and avoided talking to me for a couple of weeks.
But you can’t just help bumping into a lawyer who had 500+ cases in his docket if you are a practicing lawyer yourself (even if you have no name) so it was just a couple of weeks and we resumed our gossiping about the legal profession in Cebu in no time.
Starting last year, one of his cases coincided with a case I was handling before Judge Navarro’s sala. Our Wednesday morning gossips became a ritual.
One of the last things we talked was his political plans for 2019. He told me he was not LP anymore; he had taken the oath as a PDP-Laban member before Cong. Gwen Garcia. (I promptly informed the administrators of The Silent Majority Cebu Facebook page to remove him.) According to him, there was a little that would remain from his salary as a vice-mayor after taking care of those necessary assistance he had to render as a politician. But lawyering really was his bread and butter. Which is why he would never run as a mayor, because he then cannot practice, and he has his kids in good (I heard expensive) schools. The immigration firm, which he started with a former client, is earning a little, but it is providing space for the law firm.
Last February 7, 2018, he was late for his case because he had to attend to a Talisay case. He lingered a bit even though his case was already reset. I was feeling close enough to him that I already started asking him questions about the thing most talked about him after drugs: the girls associated with him. (Come on, this is public record.) He had already given me his side of the story about the harassment case the week before. I think he knew that I am going to ask him next about the lady lawyer. He gave me his knowing smile and told me that it is insulting to the judge for me to read a book while waiting for my case; if I should read, I should have an e-book and read it from the phone, so that it would look like I was just scrolling Facebook.
Because I had an old phone which crawls when a PDF is loaded, I bought a new one and would have shown it to him this Wednesday that I followed his advice. I figured that if he sees that I followed his advice, perhaps he would tell me about the lady lawyer. Now he would never know that I followed his advice, and I would never know about the lady lawyer.
Rest in peace, Sir John. In a country where killing has become the norm, I sincerely doubt if justice will be extracted for your death. But there is a God of Justice out there after all.
Adios, higala. Hangtod sa atong panagkita atubangan sa Tiunay nga Dagway sa Hustisya.

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