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By: Dominic D. Yasay, Izobelle T. Pulgo, Michelle Joy L. Padayhag, Nestle L. Semilla October 14,2016 - 11:07 PM


Lawyer alarmed Ungab’s case would set a trend

While we respect the police for doing its mandate, I just hope meticulous care was done in developing the complaint to avoid the perception of ‘intimidating’ lawyers who are just doing their job to defend a client, just as we don’t make a lawyer an accomplice for rape or a protector if he defends a rape suspect.”

This was the statement of the president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu chapter, Gonzalo Malig-on Jr., when asked to comment on the inclusion of lawyer Jonnah John Ungab as an alleged protector of Kerwin Espinosa in a complaint filed by Albuera police chief Jovie R. Espenido.

Malig-on said the inclusion of Ungab in the complaint is “alarming in a sense” because it could be a precedent to include lawyers just like that because they handle drug cases.

“Although primero pa man ni, we don’t want this to be the precedence ba nga sayon-sayonon lang just because mulaban ka ug alleged drug lord or makadawat ka ug say, check nga P3 million. It could just be payment of legal services, di ba. Di man entirely automatic nga makadawat ka ug payment sa imong client, apil na ka sa iyang negosyo. It’s too simplistic kung ingon niana ilang pagtan-aw,” Malig-on emphasized.

(Even if this is the first time, we don’t want this to be the precedence that they can just file unwarranted suits against the lawyer just because he represents an alleged drug lord or if he receives P3 million. It could just be payment of legal services. It is not automatic that if you receive money from your client, the lawyer is already part of the client’s business. That’s a very simplistic way of thinking.)

“The legal profession performs an important role in the function of our democracy and in the protection of rights.
Hence, we should also protect them (against) unwarranted suits,” Malig-on stressed.

Just a lawyer

Local officials came to the defense of Ungab, who is the Vice Mayor of Ronda town.

Ronda Mayor Mariano Blanco III said Ungab was not a drug protector but Espinosa’s lawyer, nothing else.

Ikaw lawyer i-hire ka og kaso sa usa ka drug lord, protector na diay na? Imo diay cliente motawag og lawyer, unya igo raka ni laban niya sa korte, matawag na diay nag protector (As a lawyer, you are hired by an alleged drug lord. Are you now a protector? As a lawyer, you defended him in the court. Are you now a protector)?” Blanco said.

He said as far as he knew, it was not Kerwin who personally asked Ungab to represent him in his cases but the father — Albuera, Leyte Mayor Roland Espinosa — who called Ungab to handle the cases of Kerwin.

Provincial Board member Christopher Baricuatro also said he did not see anything wrong with a lawyer, like Ungab, defending a drug suspect like Kerwin in court.

Ako lang, lawyer siya by profession. So mao g’yud na iyahang trabaho, depensahan iyahang kliyente (For me, he is a lawyer by profession. So it is his job to defend his clients in court),” Baricuatro said.

Baricuatro, who is also from Ronda, said he never heard any talks about Ungab being a drug protector.

“Ako wala ko kadungog sa town namo sa Ronda. Nadungog nga daghan gyud siya kliyente sa mga drugs. Basin maayo gyud siya modepensa tingali maong kuhaon siya (I never heard any talks in our town in Ronda that he is a drug protector. I only heard that he has many clients who are allegedly drug suspects. Maybe he is good at defense that is why they seek his services as a lawyer),” Baricuatro said.

IBP Eastern Visayas Governor Elaine Bathan said the kind of cases taken on by a lawyer, especially criminal cases, should not be taken to mean that the legal counsel is criminal as well. “The public must not relate the legal services and functions of a lawyer to be the same as that of his client just because the lawyer is representing a high-profile case or a person accused of a very sensitive or controversial issue,” she said.

Purely Professional

Ungab said his relationship with Kerwin Espinosa and his father, Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, is “purely professional.”

He said the Espinosas would engage his services on case or service basis and that they were not his retainer clients.

Among the cases he handled was an appeal for a drug case involving Kerwin, which was dismissed by the Court of Appeals.

Another drug case filed in the Regional Trial Court against Kerwin, which he handled, was also dismissed.

Ungab said he also handled the Petition for Annulment of Marriage filed by Kerwin against his wife Annalou Llaguno sometime in late December 2014 (see separate story).

Aside from that, Ungab said he was also in the legal panel of the elder Espinosa during the May elections.

But after the elections, Ungab said he hasn’t even seen Kerwin as the cases he handled for them have all been terminated already.

Commenting on Ungab’s handling of high-profile drug-related cases, Bathan said that there is nothing wrong with a lawyer choosing to handle the kind of cases that he is capable of handling.

“To be fair, to any lawyer for that matter who will handle any high profile or any criminal case, whether it’s a controversial or just a minute case, dili gyud siya kaingon nga gidili ni because if we are prohibited from doing that, kinsa na man ang mu-represent sa mga akusado?” Bathan pointed out.

Bathan reminded lawyers to keep the relationship with their clients “at a very professional level” especially when representing those involved in very sensitive and high-profile cases so as not to taint their reputation. She said it is all a matter of striking a balance between a lawyer’s responsibility to his clients, to the public, as well as in protecting his profession.

Code of Professional Responsibility

Bathan said that under the lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility, they are mandated to protect the interest of their clients, even the ones who are seemingly guilty. “Mandate man gud namo in the legal profession. Our Code of Professional Responsibility tells us that it is not that we should say no to a client, even to a client who is guilty,” she said.

“In fact, we are also duty-bound to protect his interest,” she added.

“What is important is that in doing so, we do not go beyond the bounds of the law. We also do not go beyond the norms of our ethical responsibilities. It’s a matter of being able to choose what cases we handle. We don’t have to say yes to all cases all the time. We still need to assess if we are capable,” she emphasized. Bathan, however, admitted that in the conduct and performance of their duties, there will always be misconceptions on the part of the public, equating lawyers with their clients.

Malig-on declined to comment on Ungab’s inclusion in the complaint, saying he has not read it. He said he lauds the police for doing their job in their anti-illegal drugs campaign although he hopes that the filing of drug-related complaint was thoroughly studied.

“As I’ve said, usa ka kaso pa man na hunuon, wa pa may maingon nga naa’y pattern (It is still one case and we cannot say there is a pattern). We don’t want to preempt or make a conclusion that this is really meant to intimidate, but we just don’t want that this would be where it would go,” Malig-on added.

Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Noli Taliño said they have not taken any action regarding the complaint saying PRO-8, which is on top of the case, has not coordinated with them yet.

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TAGS: Albuera, court, drug, drugs, IBP, IBP Cebu, IBP Cebu Chapter, illegal drug trade, illegal drugs, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu Chapter, Kerwin Espinosa, lawyer, lawyers, Police Regional Office, rights, Ronda, Ungab

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