Body of slain lawyer Jonnah John Ungab arrives in Ronda as town mourns loss of beloved son
Flags in Ronda town, southwest Cebu, were flown at half-staff. Black and white ribbons were tied around trees and electric posts, while grieving townfolks were still in disbelief.
The body of slain lawyer Jonnah John “Janjan” Ungab was brought to his hometown in Ronda — 88 kilometers southwest of Cebu City — on Saturday noon in preparation for his burial today.
Local officials led by his uncle, Ronda town Mayor Mariano Blanco III, welcomed the casket bearing Ungab’s body at the Ronda Multipurpose Hall for a necrological service before it was transferred to the Our Lady of Sorrows Church for an overnight vigil.
The Requiem Mass is set at 1 p.m. today.
The Cebuano lawyer will be laid to rest at the family’s private mausoleum in Ronda.
In a message he delivered, Blanco said the people of Ronda were deeply saddened by the brutal slay of Ungab.
“We were shocked when we learned about his death. He was a good man and public servant, a respectful person, and one who never hurt anybody.
Janjan is but a great loss to the municipality of Ronda,” he said as his voice cracked.
The transfer of Ungab’s body from Cebu City to Ronda town yesterday was awkward for both Blanco and his nephew Jonald Ungab, the brother of the slain lawyer, who floated the possibility that politics was the motive behind the killing.
Although he didn’t mention names, Jonald, in a press conference last Wednesday, asked investigators to look into the political scenario in Ronda, while citing a suspension order which he said is set to be implemented against Blanco next month due to an anti-graft case filed against the mayor before the Sandiganbayan.
Jonald did not elaborate on his claims.
But Blanco was quick to defend himself amid indirect accusations that he had a hand in the killing of Ungab.
“Gamay pa ning bata si Janjan ako nay nag-atiman kaniya. Hinungitan pa gani ko ning bataa (I took care of Janjan when he was still a child. It was even I who spoon-fed him). He became a lawyer, a councilor and eventually a vice mayor. He was my tandem in politics for many years, and people in
Ronda have experienced the brand of service we have for them,” said the mayor, who is on his last term in office.
Blanco said he and Ungab never had any conflict at all.
“Bisan gamay nga bingkil, wala gyud mi ana, ma-trabaho man sa politika o sa pamilya (We have no enmity against each other, be it in politics or in our family),” he said.
Although it hurt him a lot, Blanco said he decided not to visit Ungab’s wake in Cebu City after he was indirectly dragged into his nephew’s slay.
“Although I was not there, I can say that every day, I prayed that we will all be able to accept his death, and that he (Ungab) will be in God’s loving embrace,” he said.
“Jan, may you rest in peace. May you be in the kingdom of God,” he added.
Ungab was Blanco’s running mate in Ronda town for three consecutive terms. They first ran under the One-Cebu party of the Garcias and eventually transferred to the Liberal Party.
Jonald, on one hand, lost to Blanco in the 2016 mayoral race in Ronda by a margin of 1,780 votes.
In an interview, Blanco said he noticed that, since last December, Ungab seemed to be bothered by something.
“Mora siyag luya. Ako pa gani siyang giingnan nga Jan, unsa may problema nimo? Unya miingon lang siya nga ‘Wala ra. Ok ra ko, uncle (He seemed to be weak. I even told him ‘Jan, what is your problem?’ And he simply told me ‘Nothing. I’m okay, uncle),” he recounted.
After Ungab’s death, Blanco also expressed fears for his life. He said he is seeking protection from the local police although he has not received any threats yet.
“Yes, I am afraid but I also feel the need to continue my job as a public servant,” said Blanco who was stripped by the National Police Commission (Napolcom) of his power over the police in Ronda in November 2017 for his alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade — an accusation he vehemently denied.
Blanco and Jonald did not have the chance to talk to each other yesterday.
The mayor accompanied the casket from the multipurpose hall to the Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, but decided to immediately step out of the church as Jonald took his turn to escort his brother’s body to the church’s side altar.
Rocky Gabutan, who assumed as vice mayor of the municipality in place of Ungab, said he did not know what hit him when he learned that their vice mayor for several years was killed.
“I could not understand what I felt. Janjan was a good person. He helped many people. I don’t know of anyone who has a grudge on him because he was really a good man,” he said in an interview.
A year ago, however, Gabutan said Ungab told him and the municipal councilors that he received threats to his life.
“He did not specify about it, but accordingly, there were persons who were following him. As far as I could remember, that was the time when he (Ungab) was dragged into the drug group of (Rolando) Kerwin Espinosa (Jr.),” he said.
Like Blanco, Gabutan said he also noticed that Ungab wasn’t himself in the past weeks.
“Tabi-an man gyud ni siya pero atong January lang, nahibulong ko kay hilomon naman kaayo siya (He talks a lot, but just last January, I noticed that he became very silent),” he said.
The municipal council of Ronda yesterday issued a Resolution of Condolence to the bereaved family of Ungab, saying the late vice mayor’s death “was felt by the whole municipality” and that they “take pride for his service and contribution, not only as vice mayor, but also as a lawyer.”
Tears welled up in the eyes of the councilors as well as employees of the municipal government and the residents of Ronda during the emotional service which ended with a flower offering while Ungab’s kids rendered hymns for their father.
Ungab’s wife Pearl said she was overwhelmed by the support given by the Rondahanons to her husband and the entire family.
“He (Ungab) loves you the way you love him. You know how he serves people because his heart had nothing but pure service, not only as a lawyer, but also as a servant of the people,” she said.
“I am just happy that I have a husband who has a big heart, not only for his family, but also to the Rondahanons,” she added.
Pearl expressed gratitude to Mayor Blanco and all the members of the municipal council for organizing the necrological service yesterday.
“Vice (Mayor Ungab) is not asking for something in return for his service, but if you may contribute something so that we can come up with a reward money for anyone who can lead to the arrest of the suspects,” she said.
Pearl later clarified, in an interview, that the family has yet to formally decide on whether or not to come up with a financial reward to tipsters, but won’t stop the municipal council if they decide to do so.
“He (Ungab) may be a great loss to us, but he is a gain to heaven. Thank you for your prayers and condolences,” she said.
Pearl was accompanied by Ungab’s mother Alma and her six children aged 20, 16, 12, 9, 6 and 2.
Senior Insp. Judge Cebrero, chief of the Ronda Police Station, said at least 15 policemen will be deployed to secure the people during Ungab’s burial today.
“We will provide area security from the church to the cemetery,” he said in an interview.
So far, he said, they have not received any threats.
“I advised the people to maintain the peace and order in Ronda, as we the police try to make the burial as peaceful as possible,” Cebrero said.
The Cebu City Police Office on Friday released the screenshots of the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footages showing the alleged “spotter” who spied on Ungab at the Qimonda IT Center where Cebu City’s courthouse is located.
The supposed “spotter” was captured on video while talking to someone on his cellular phone as he came near the Suzuki Kizashi car of Ungab when the latter fetched his wife Pearl at the lobby of Qimonda IT Center at around 12 noon last Monday, February 19.
In another footage, the gunman, who was seen standing outside the gate of Qimonda IT Center, also communicated with another person through his cellphone as Ungab’s car passed by before he casually walked by the vehicle and fired twice at the driver’s seat where Ungab was.
Before the ambush, Ungab attended to three of the cases he handled, including that of self-confessed drug lord Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr. who, last Monday, was found liable of violating the 2010 election gun ban.
The police and the National Bureau of Investigation are looking into three possible motives behind the killing of Ungab: politics, his job as a lawyer, and personal grudge.
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