Workers’ lawyer, a peoples’ defender
By ALDWIN QUITASOL
“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”— Mao Tse Tung
Why did this man come here to the Cordillera? He did not even speak a single word in Iloco or any Igorot language? Yet he served the workers of the region with utmost selflessness, and stood tall with unflinching courage defending them for more than three decades?
He was one lawyer who never boasted of his being a lawyer. He was one professional without that “intellectual arrogance”. He was the legal counsel who never implied that he is more knowledgeable than his client. Nor did he pretend to be superior at making decisions. He listens, discusses, asks questions, gives suggestions and recommendations. He was full of enthusiasm to learn more and he was a most humble big guy.
The people who were lucky to work with him see him as a most remarkable kasama. The workers and other people whom he helped see him as “dayta a ti abugado, unaen na nu kas-ano ka mangabak saan a kasla ti dadduma nga diay lang attorney’s fee ti ininteresaduen da” (that is a kind of lawyer who prioritizes how to win the case for his client unlike the others who are just after the attorney’s fee).
His family hails from the Bicol Region and then migrated to Antipolo, Rizal after their house and their land was taken away by a wealthy family. Because of that, he promised to himself to rise up and finish his schooling and become a lawyer to fight injustices like what happened to his family. After graduating from high school, he went to Manila where he finished college while working in the public sector. He was a clerk by day and a law student by night.
In his college days, he was a member of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) when it was unitl it was illegalized. He actively participated in the rallies against the tyranny of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
After graduating from law and passing the bar exams, organizers of the trade union movement asked him if he wanted to serve the people of North Luzon particularly the Cordillera and Ilocos regions. He did not hesitate when he was accompanied by Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement or KMU) chairman Rolando Olalia in the early 80’s to the bus station going to the city of Baguio.
In Baguio, he was immediately integrated as labor attorney and staff of the Cordillera Labor Education Assistance and Research Center (CLEAR). During that period, the mine workers of Antamok mines were forming a union, they sought his help and he became their legal counsel.
From 1980 to 2012, he served thousands of workers not only here in the Cordillera, Ilocos Provinces, but as far as Isabela, Cagayan among others. He was famous because of his down-to-earth attitude toward his clients but fierce and firm in the legal battle. Most of the cases he handled were on “high grading”. Mine companies sue their workers who were caught “stealing” gold ore where the company had property claims, aside from violating company rules and terminating them. Almost all of the cases he handled won and the workers were reinstated with full back wages and payment of damages. And his attorney’s fees never came from the pockets of the workers as it was already integrated in the liabilities paid by the companies.
Some of the unions he served are 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 Phil., Dong-in K7-Naflu-KMU, Bauang Power Plant Site Employees Union, and hundreds of workers from different workplaces, even the teachers of the colleges in Baguio, the latest is Sagada Weavers Union.
He never had owned a house or a car, unlike other lawyers who ptiority is to proudly display their 4 wheel drives or the civics.. He never vacations abroad compared to others who have the opportunities to tour the globe. He only had a television set where he never failed to watch the boxing fights of Manny Pacquiao, a table, a cabinet, a wooden bed, a stove, couple of plates and glasses, a laptop computer, a mirror and a comb. He also bought a washing machine but not just for his use. He shared it with his colleagues especially during the rainy season when it is hard dry clothes.
During his wake here in Baguio City, workers, president of unions, labor leaders and members of different organizations and sectors came to pay their respects and held a night of tribute for him. Almost all of the workers who spoke that night remembered very well how he introduced himself to them. “Bosing, tawagin niyo na lang po akong Dick,” (Sir, you can call me Dick) they recalled. This is how he always introduced himself to anyone regardless of the person’s educational attainment or status in life.
Whenever he comes out of the comfort room of the office of the Cordillera Labor Center, he will look at himself at the mirror and fix his kinky hair. He will stretch his two hands to check if his sleeves are of the same length. He will then bring out his white flower embrocation and put some on his finger and sniff it hard. He will take a few drops of it on his tongue and put some on his nape.
He had his share of falling in love or out, and he knew how it was to be refused by a woman. But he never did use this as an excuse to let go of his service to the workers. During some gatherings, he would talk about it, like one who threw the flowers he gave into the trash, Then one who advised him, “Bok, sinabihan ako na ibaling ko na lang sa iba ang pag-ibig ko,” (Bok, she told me to divert my feelings to another). So he says, “bok, hayaan mo na lang silang maglaway sa akin,” (bok, let them salivate over me).
During the recent tribute for him the workers and his colleagues agreed that his greatest love was serving the workers and the people of the Cordillera. As Atty. Raul Molintas put it “He was married to the workers of the Cordillera.”
Salute’ to a champion of the working class, Atty. Federico B. Bunao (April 17, 1947-August 4, 2012).#