RONDA Vice Mayor Jonnah John Ungab defended yesterday his decision to maintain “a purely professional” relationship with Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. and his son Rolan “Kerwin” Espinosa.
But he also admitted he has received threats and now fears for his life.
Last week, Albuera Police Chief Jovie Espenido filed criminal complaints against Ungab and other respondents before the Department of Justice, and tagged the Cebu-based lawyer as a drug protector.
Ungab said he had received legal fees—not protection money—from the Espinosas, and pointed out that no law prohibits government officials like him from keeping a law practice.
“I just want to make it a point that we are not prohibited by law to exercise our profession and defend the accused in criminal cases,” he said in a DySS interview.
He said he has never defended a client who is suspected of being involved in the illegal drug trade in his town, and Barili’s court records will prove this.
Threats on his life, however, are making him wary.
“Sa pagka-karon ni lie low gyud ko ug sa pag ka tinud-anay, ako na lang gipangtiwas ang uban kay lain man gud nga nakadawat na ta og assistance unya biyaan nimo in the middle of the hearing (I’m trying to lie low for now. The truth is, I’ll just wrap up a few cases because it wouldn’t be right to have received assistance then leave clients in the middle of a hearing),” Ungab said.
He said he started defending Kerwin Espinosa in 2008, after the mayor’s son had been convicted. He handled the man’s appeal, while Espinosa was sent to the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa.
After eight months, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision and set Espinosa free.
Ungab recalled that he defended the mayor’s son in four other cases after that, but stressed Kerwin was not classified as an alleged big-time drug dealer then.
“Ang akong dealing nila, magkita lang mi kung naa’y hearing, moadto sila sa opisina mangita ko og ebidensiya (We only see each other when there’s a hearing or when they go to my office while we search for evidence),” he said.
In 2014, Ungab said, he also handled the younger Espinosa’s annulment case.
In summer that year, a police team that served a search warrant on him again arrested Kerwin for allegedly bringing a baby Armalite. Again, Ungab defended the mayor’s son in court.
He presented a video footage that negated the police team’s claim, and a prosecutor dismissed the complaint.
This year, Mayor Espinosa sought his services as an election lawyer, and the vice mayor said he, instead, brought lawyers there to help Espinosa since he was also campaigning for reelection in Ronda.
Ungab said there was no specific allegation that made him a drug protector or that that he paid prosecutors and police.
“Pero ug mao ra pud imo basehan naa’y kwarta unya he knows I’m the lawyer mura man gud kaning akong tan-aw it’s an assault on the profession and on my fellow lawyers (If the basis is that I received money, even if the police know I was the Espinosas lawyer, then this looks like an assault on the profession and my fellow lawyers),” said Ungab.
He said his constituents and his family know that his conscience is clear.
“As long as wala ko mobayad og huwes wala ko mamayad og witnesses, I accept within the bounds nga maprotektahan nako ang kliyente as provided by the law (As long as I don’t pay a judge or witnesses, I accept within the bounds of the law that I can protect my client). I don’t think there is anything wrong with that morally or legally,” he said.