KERWIN ESPINOSA LAWYER WAYLAID, KILLED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
Less than two hours after accompanying self-confessed drug lord Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr. in the courtroom, his lawyer was killed in an ambush in broad daylight on Monday along one of the busiest streets in Cebu City.
Lawyer Jonnah John Ungab, driving his gray Suzuki Kizashi sedan, was just about 20 meters away from the main gate of the Cebu City Hall of Justice along the Port Service Road at the North Reclamation Area when a masked assailant shot him twice in the head at 11:50 a.m.
Ungab, also the vice mayor of Ronda town in southern Cebu, was rushed to a nearby hospital but died after two hours due to two gunshot wounds in the left temple and ear.
He was with his wife, Pearl, when the incident happened. Pearl was unharmed.
Ungab, 46, was the 10th lawyer in Cebu who was killed by gunmen since 2004.
On Monday morning, he attended to at least three court proceedings, including the promulgation of Espinosa’s two cases at the Cebu City Hall of Justice at the Qimonda Building, where Espinosa was convicted for violating the election gun ban in 2010. (see separate story on page 2)
Ungab, a father of six children, was the second counsel of Espinosa killed in an ambush by still unidentified perpetrators. On Aug. 23, 2016, lawyer Rogelio Bato Jr. was shot dead by men on board a white pick-up and a motorcycle in Tacloban City, Leyte.
Aside from Espinosa, Ungab also served as lawyer of suspected Danao City-based drug lord Alvaro “Barok” Alvaro, who is currently detained at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), and of controversial Chinese-Filipino businessman Kenneth Dong, who was tagged in the P6.4-billion shabu shipment confiscated by the Bureau of Customs last year.
Ungab was earlier tagged by Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido, former chief of the Albuera police in Leyte, as among the alleged drug protectors of Espinosa — allegedly the biggest drug lord in Eastern Visayas.
Ungab was also counsel to Kerwin’s father, Rolando Sr., who was the mayor of Albuera town and was detained on drug charges and killed in a highly controversial police raid inside the Leyte Provincial Jail in Baybay City on Nov. 15, 2016.
The lawyer was charged at the Regional State Prosecutor’s Office in Tacloban City but was eventually cleared by state prosecutors for failure of the police to present sufficient evidence against him.
SPO1 Winston Ybañez, investigator of the Cebu City Police Office’s Homicide Section, said they were looking into all possible motives in the killing of Ungab.
“This could be work-related or something personal. Our investigation, nonetheless, continues,” he told reporters.
Earlier on Monday, Ungab met Espinosa at the courthouse, who was flown in to Cebu City from Manila on Monday to attend the promulgation of his cases in Cebu City. Espinosa was clad in a bulletproof vest and was heavily guarded by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents.
At around 10 a.m. on Monday, Ungab accompanied his client at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 23, where Espinosa was sentenced to a year in prison for violating the 2010 election gun ban. Espinosa, however, was acquitted of illegal possession of firearms after he was able to prove that his gun was licensed. (separate story on page 2)
Ungab attended to two more cases after the promulgation of Espinosa’s case. He went to RTC 11 to represent another client, Romanian Petru Ioan Uveges, who was charged in relation to the alleged skimming that hit automated teller machines of the Land Bank of the Philippines in Cebu City in 2017. Later, he was at RTC 58 to assist another client who was arraigned on charges of selling illegal drugs.
Ungab stepped out of the Cebu City courthouse at around 11:30 a.m. and boarded his gray Suzuki Kizashi car with his wife. Ungab’s vehicle slowed down to prepare to turn right from the Port Service Road to S. Osmeña Road when a man wearing a face mask walked toward the driver’s side and fired twice, hitting the lawyer in the left temple and left ear.
Ybañez said Ungab’s car accelerated out of control, rammed into a taxi, and stopped in front of Sugbutel Family Hotel.
The assailant then boarded a get-away motorcycle driven by another person who was wearing a full face helmet and sped towards downtown Cebu City. Investigators recovered two empty shells of a .45 caliber pistol at the crime scene.
Responders from the Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation (Eruf) rushed Ungab to the Chong Hua Hospital in Mandaue City. Doctors tried to save Ungab but he died at 2 p.m., said Supt. Artemio Ricabo, deputy director for operations of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO).
Task Force Ungab
Senior Supt. Joel Doria, CCPO director, formed Task Force Ungab on Monday afternoon to help expedite the arrest of the suspects.
The task force was composed of the city’s Investigation and Detection Management Branch (IDMB), the Homicide Section, and the Mabolo Police Station.
The NBI in Central Visayas (NBI-7) is also conducting a separate probe on Ungab’s death.
“We don’t have any leads yet as of now,” said NBI-7 Director Patricio Bernales in an interview. He said Espinosa, who was flown back to Manila yesterday, was informed about Ungab’s death.
Ybañez said they were securing the footages of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras from different establishments near the crime scene.
“I believe the assailant really waited for the victim to go out of the Hall of Justice,” he said.
Romeo Roxas, the driver of the taxi hit by Ungab’s car, said he was on his way to Lapu-Lapu City with a passenger when he heard two bursts of gunfire.
He said he later saw Ungab’s vehicle ram into his taxi before it stopped in front of the hotel.
“Nadasmagan gyud niya ang atubangan sa akong taxi. Basin og natumban niya ang gasolinador sa iyang sakyanan kay kusog man kaayo ang dagan. (He hit the front portion of my taxi. Maybe, he had stepped on the accelerator because his car was running fast),” Roxas said.
Ungab’s family has remained in shock and has yet to finalize the details of the wake and burial. His remains were scheduled to be transported to the St. Peter’s Funeral Homes along Imus Street in Cebu City at dawn of Tuesday.
“We were really shocked with what happened,” said Ungab’s nephew, Jed, in an interview at the Chong Hua Hospital in Mandaue City on Monday afternoon.
“We will meet as a family before we can release an official statement. We’re still waiting for other members of our family to arrive,” he added.
Pearl and her six children were with Ungab when the latter breathe his last.
Ungab’s close friend, Prosecutor Mary Ann Castro, said she didn’t know what hit her when she learned about the incident.
“I’m shocked. He was gone to soon,” she told Cebu Daily News over the phone as her voiced cracked.
“Why did this happen? Is it because he’s a lawyer who only wanted to defend a client?” she added.
Castro said Ungab’s office assistant confided to her that the lawyer received a sort of a threat sent through a text message last February 8.
“Biya-i na ang kaso ni Kerwin. (Let go of Kerwin’s case),” said the text message as relayed by Castro.
Ungab, she said, responded, “Kon patyon ko nimo, dili kaha mokuha si Kerwin og mas maayo nga abogado kaysa nako?” (If you kill me, would Kerwin not get another lawyer who is better than me?)
Castro said Ungab was difficult to reach through phone since December 2017.
The prosecutor called on authorities to do their best so that justice will be attained.
“Why shoot the messenger? Never attack an officer of the court. Attorney John was another advocate (of justice) who was killed with impunity. Rest in peace, Attorney John. Thanks for the friendship,” Castro said.
Another close associate of Ungab, lawyer Leilani Villarino, could hardly speak as she tried to control her emotions.
“Grabe gyud. Wa ko gatuo nga ingon ana ang mahitabo. (This is so hard. I didn’t expect this to happen),” she told CDN in between sobs over the phone.
“Of course, we join calls for justice for Attorney John,” she added. /With reports from Futch Anthony Inso
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