LOCAL officials in Cebu were shocked upon knowing the ambush of Ronda Vice Mayor Jonnah John Ungab on Monday, February 19, while colleagues in the legal profession expressed alarm over the incident.
"I am shocked by the violent death of Ronda Vice Mayor John Ungab. My sincerest condolence to his family. I strongly urge our law enforcers to bring those responsible to justice," Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III said.
Ronda Mayor Mariano Blanco said he was surprised that Ungab was ambushed when he has a clean record as vice mayor for 15 years.
Blanco is also Ungab's maternal uncle. He said he and the rest of the town officials are still looking for answers as to how Ungab was killed.
In a statement, Cebu Vice Governor Agnes Magpale said she is saddened by the incident and expressed worry of its effects to Cebu's image.
"I'm worried for Cebu's security. Our perception is Cebu is a very safe place but ing-ana ra diay ka sayon ang pag-ambush (but that is how easy to ambush)," Magpale said.
Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Cebu chapter president lawyer Mundlyn Martin, in a Facebook post, said she "condemns the act" committed against Ungab, who is not only her colleague but "my mentor."
"Atty. John is not only a fellow lawyer to me. He is my law professor and my mentor. He is a very good lawyer and is known to do well in the courtroom," Martin said.
She added that the "act of violence against us lawyers has no place in a civil society. As lawyers, we are only doing our job as mandated by the law and as our personal commitment to our clients."
She said she is hoping that society will understand the role of the lawyer and other people's roles. "Any act against us, either for vengeance or not, is an act of an uncivilized man. This shouldn’t be in this generation."
Martin urged other lawyers to take care of themselves.
Lawyer Ian Vincent Manticajon, vice president for the Visayas of the Union of Peoples Lawyers in the Philippines, in a separate Facebook post, also condemned the "senseless killing," and urged authorities to conduct a "full and impartial probe."
Manticajon said the death of Ungab "undermines the proper functioning of our entire justice system already laid bare to the fleeting events and political mood of the moment."
He also asked fellow lawyers to be vigilant.
The Cebu for Human Rights, a group of human rights defenders headed mostly by lawyers, said the murder of Ungab is a message to litigators "not to defend those accused of drug violations."
"Some people think that Atty. Ungab’s death was justified because he was lawyering for an alleged drug lord. They condemn him for accepting money from an alleged drug lord and think that he is directly benefiting from the illegal drug trade. They say he was a marked man. Also, they think that lawyers are obstacles in stopping the drug trade because they would do everything to get their client out or acquitted. In the current situation where the government is waging a drug war, these people brand lawyers as drug lords too," the statement reads.
But they added Ungab do not deserve to die.
"He did not commit any crime by defending an alleged drug lord. He is just doing his job as a lawyer," the group said.
It sees the incident as as "attack against the legal profession and an attack against the judicial system.."
"His killing is creating an atmosphere of fear in the legal community and has a chilling effect on the lawyers, especially the criminal lawyers," the group said.
C4HR said Ungab was one of the 200 lawyers in Cebu who signed a petition against extra judicial killings last July, 2016. In their petition, they urged President Rodrigo Duterte an end to the killings, saying “extrajudicial killings have no place in a democracy like ours that is founded on the rule of law and not of men...Extrajudicial killings have no place in a democracy that gives to the courts the sole power to adjudge guilt and mete out punishment…”
Signatories of the statement include include human rights defenders and Cebuano activist lawyers Democrito Barcenas, Lourdes Barcenas, Magdalena Lepiten, Fionah Bojos, Myrfi Gonzalez, Vincent Isles, Jay Pujanes and misters Bien Fernandez and Haley Atienza. (Kevin A. Lagunda, Justin K. Vestil/SunStar Cebu/SunStar Philippines)