Thursday , June 21, 2018

Goodbyes marked by cries for justice

JOHN Daniel Ungab felt pride in his father, lawyer and Ronda Vice Mayor Jonnah John Ungab, after seeing him receive fish from a client as payment for his legal services.

“Wow! Wow! Minilyon na siya’g bayad, pero sugot ra siya’g isda (He was paid in millions, but he still agreed to be paid with fish),” he said.

He cried often during the eulogy he delivered yesterday, saying he used to write speeches with his father’s help.

John Daniel, one of Ungab’s six children, later sang The Carpenters’ ballad “Close To You,” in a falsetto interspersed with sobs, but he was cheered for the tribute he paid his father. He recalled singing the song when he was alone in the chapel of a funeral home in Cebu City last week. The boy was in school when he was told about his father’s death.

“He was not a perfect man, but he was my father,” John Daniel said.

Town’s help

A week ago, Ungab had just left Cebu City’s Hall of Justice when a masked man fired twice at his head. Ungab was dead in less than three hours. His wife Pearl, who was in the car with him, survived.

Vice Mayor Ungab’s older brother, Jonald Gracio, urged Ronda’s Municipal Council to release P500,000 as a reward for any person who can lead authorities to the perpetrators.

“We urge the witnesses to speak up and help solve this crime,” he said.

Ronda Mayor Mariano Blanco, Ungab’s uncle, said that the council will have to meet and decide on it, adding that the Commission on Audit might disapprove using public funds for a reward. He said he is willing to contribute his personal funds for the planned bounty, but the Blanco-Ungab family will have discuss this before finalizing anything.

“Mag-agad mi sa pamilya pila’y tampohanay (We in the family have yet to agree on how much to pool together),” said Blanco.

Politics is among the angles police investigators are considering, but Blanco has denied all speculations he was involved. Blanco is on his third and last term as mayor, while Ungab, 44, was also on his last term as vice mayor. First Councilor Rocky Gabatan has replaced Ungab as the council’s presiding officer.

Task Force Ungab of the Cebu City Police Office is still gathering evidence and has yet to identify its suspects.

In an interview, Senior Insp. Jonathan Taneo, task force spokesperson and chief of the Homicide Section, said that no one has called their hotline yet to identify the man who allegedly led the gunman to the lawyer and whose photo the police has circulated.

“We are still awaiting our personnel and other policemen from the province because they are looking for evidences that will be of significance to the case,” Taneo said.

The requiem for Ungab started past 12 p.m. in Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Barangay Poblacion, Ronda. Some 2,000 Rondahanons attended the mass, estimated the town’s deputy police chief, SPO4 Roger Incipido. All told, however, some 8,000 people showed up for the funeral rites, which 15 police officers secured.

Mayor Blanco showed up while Ungab’s remains were being interred in a vault in his family’s mausoleum in Barangay Palanas, Ronda past 5 p.m.

While Ungab’s wife Pearl cried in between sentences, she managed to recall some light moments in her eulogy.

His widow’s voice

One time, she said, Ungab asked her to allow him to join a group that would give him more connections in the government.

“Connect yourself to the Lord,” Pearl recalled telling her husband.

She later learned her husband did not join the group.

“Mahadlok man diay ka nako (You were really afraid of me), ‘Ga,” she told her husband.

“Wala ko mahadlok nimo, nahadlok ko sa imong baseball bat (I’m not afraid of you, but I fear your baseball bat),” Ungab said.

The audience laughed at Pearl’s recollection, a reference to an encounter she had with a female lawyer, whose car she damaged with a baseball bat in 2015.

Pearl was with Ungab when the latter was shot while he was driving his car outside Qimonda Building-Cebu City Hall of Justice last Feb. 19. Ungab had attended the promulgation of cases faced by his client, Eastern Visayas “drug lord” Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr., before the attack happened.

Jonald Gracio asked the public to pray for their family and their mother Alma, so she can recover from her grief. He said his father had died two years ago and it’s too soon for Alma to deal with another loss, this time a son.

“Ang anak unta’y molubong sa ginikanan (Children should outlive their parents),” Jonald Gracio said.

Raised fists

Alma, in her eulogy, said her son’s death is a great loss to their family and Rondahanons.

“I know he is again in heaven,” she said, before breaking into sobs at the pulpit.

After the eulogies were delivered, the mourners shouted thrice: “Justice for John Ungab!” They raised their right fists.

Some mourners wore shirts printed with Ungab’s photo in front. The message “We always love you and miss you forever” was printed on the back of the shirt. Above that was a logo of Batman, that masked vigilante from the Justice League.

Rolly Buquia, 52, wore the shirt yesterday, saying Ungab had given him a free legal consultation a few days before the latter was killed.

“Bisag moteks ra ka, mo-reply siya. Mangumusta pa siya nimo (He replied to my texts. He asked how I was doing),” he said.

Another Rondahanon, Emalyn Santos, 30, said she did not believe Ungab was involved in illegal activities, including drug trafficking.

Msgr. Rommel Kintanar, one of Ungab’s teachers when the lawyer was in the seminary, described Ungab as one of his good students.

“Thank you, God, for giving us Atty. Jonnah John. Please, reward his good deeds,” he said at the end of the requiem.

What justice means

Ungab’s classmate in the seminary, Fr. Roland Angel Anthony Torres, made an acronym of the word justice: “John Ungab Seeks Truth in Cebu EJK (Extra-judicial killing).”

“Ang giduphan sa Ginoo ang makakasala (God saved the sinners). In the same manner, ang giduphan ni John ang iyang gilabanan, ang giila nato nga salot sa katilingban (John defended those people we treated as outcasts in our society),” he said.

In the last two years, Atty. Ungab was in the public eye in part because some of his more controversial clients. Apart from Kerwin Espinosa, the late Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. had also been one of his clients. The mayor was killed in what the police said was a shootout while he was detained in Leyte in November 2016. A few weeks before that, another of the mayor’s lawyers had been ambushed and killed.

In Ronda yesterday, Fr. Torres recalled in his homily how Ungab would defend his classmates in the seminary, often owning up to the mistakes committed by others. He urged the faithful to pray for the perpetrators’ enlightenment.

“We are all devastated by his death. His death brings us to a point of asking, what’s going on? He was a lawyer bound to uphold the law,” said Fr. Torres. “We seek justice for John. Don’t worry, it will come upon us. If justice is not served here, no one can escape God’s justice. No one can escape God’s judgment.” WITH JOB