Cordillera labor remembers selfless lawyer


BAGUIO CITY — Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Cordillera Spokesperson Vicente Dilem said that the Cordillera labor movement remember and miss the most down-to-earth lawyer who selflessly dedicated more than three decades of his life to serving the toiling masses especially the poor workers in the Cordillera Region and other places of Luzon.

Dilem said that Atty. Federico Bunao led the life of the revolutionary that the great Asian leader Mao Tse Tung described when he said “Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather. To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather”.

Dilem said that Bunao preferred to be called not by his profession of attorney but simply “Dick”. He taught them by example to be humble when dealing with the people who need help but be fierce when we fight for the rights of the oppressed workers.

Bunao’s family is originally from the Bicol region who migrated to Antipolo, Rizal after a wealthy family grabbed their land and family home. This experience served as inspiration to him to persevere and become a lawyer to fight against injustices. After finishing high school, he went to Manila and pursued his college education as a working student. Then he took up law and attended classes at night while working as a clerk in the public sector by day.

In college, Bunao joined the nationalist militant youth organization, Kabataang Makabayan (KM) until it was declared illegal by former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. He participated in the rallies against the rule of Marcos and the call for genuine social change.

According to KMU’s record on Bunao, “After graduating from law and passing the bar exams, organizers of the trade union movement invited him to serve the people of North Luzon, particularly the Cordillera and Ilocos regions. He did not hesitate. In the early 80’s, accompanied by Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement or KMU) chairman, Rolando Olalia, he took a bus bound for Baguio City.”

“In Baguio, he was immediately integrated as labor lawyer of the Cordillera Labor Education Assistance and Research Center (CLEAR). At the time, the mine workers at Antamok mines were forming their union; they sought his help as their legal counsel.”

“From 1980 to 2012, he served thousands of workers not only in the Cordillera and Ilocos Provinces, but also as far as Isabela and Cagayan. He soon became well-known for his down-to-earth attitude toward his clients, his fierce legal battles and firm stance for the workers in collective bargaining negotiations.”

At that time, “Mine companies were suing workers caught high-grading gold ore in areas where the company had property claims. Employers also sued workers for allegedly violating company rules; or terminated workers.

Most of the cases handled by lawyer Bunao won for the workers reinstatement with full back wages and payment of damages. Bunao’s attorney’s fees never came from the pockets of the workers as these were already integrated in the liabilities paid by the companies.”

“Some of the unions he served were the Mangmangged ti Benguet Antamok Gold Operations-National Federation of Labor Unions (MABAGO-Naflu-KMU), Baro a Timpuyog Dagiti Mangmangged iti Benguet-Naflu-KMU, Unyon Dagiti Mangmangged iti Itogon Suyoc Mines-Naflu-KMU, Agrofoods Employees Union Naflu-KMU, workers of Narda’s weaving, Vital Farms Employees Union, Nagkakaisang Manggagawa sa Adriste, Nagkakaisang Manggagawa sa Ramos Construction, Philippine Rabbit Employees Union, Lepanto Employees Union Naflu-KMU, Progressive Union of Mineworkers in Philex, Lepanto Security Force Union Naflu-KMU, Shipside Employees Union, employees of Diamond Drilling Company of the Phils., Dong-in K7-Naflu-KMU, Bauang Power Plant Site Employees Union, and hundreds of workers from different workplaces, including the teachers of colleges in Baguio. The last addition was Sagada Weavers Union.”

Dilem said that Dick was one of a kind of lawyer that is difficult to find. He said he was not like the other lawyers who are simply after their attorney’s fees or appearance fees. He said that many of Bunao’s clients can manifest that he prioritizes how his clients will win the case and he will get his attorney’s fees from the company owners and managements or in short the capitalists.

Dilem said that Bunao lived a very simple life compared to the other lawyers who own big houses and several cars. He said that the labor lawyer had only a television set, a wooden bed, a stove, a few plates or kitchen utensils and a washing machine. “Of course he had his precious law books and piles of case filess that he read every night,” he said.

According to Dilem, Bunao’s demise was a very sad news not only for the mass movement but more over for the workers he had served. On the lawyer’s wake, hundreds of people from many places of the region and the country not only to offer prayers for his soul but to share their stories about how Bunao touched their lives. “They came to give their utmost gratitude to the humble man who never boasted that he was an intelligent, hardworking and winning lawyer,” he said.

Dilem said that according to the people who were lucky to work with Bunao, he is remembered by the way he introduced himself: “Mga bosing, ako si Attorney Federico Bunao, tawagin niyo lamang akong Dick, ipaglaban natin hangga’t makakaya ang mga kaso ninyo at pipilitin nating manalo,” (Sirs, I Am Attorney Federico Bunao, just call me Dick, we will fight for your case until we can and we will do our best to win).

Bunao was born on April 17, 1947 and died of a fatal stroke on August 4, 2012.


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