“It is time to be relevant and breathe life to the letters of the law and make it as a potent tool to attain justice.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – As far as Katherine Panguban is concerned, there is no such thing as a “lazy Sunday.”
Everyday, the 30-year-old lawyer said, is an opportunity to beat deadlines, write pleadings, appear before a court, meet her clients, and draft statements. The list of her tasks goes on. She is a fine example of a hardworking, young, Igorot lawyer who has chosen to take the proverbial road less travelled — the people’s lawyering.
So imagine her frustration when on one afternoon at their case conference at the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, she was told by her colleagues that she could not volunteer to write their “urgent alert” because this time, it is about her.
Panguban is currently facing kidnapping and serious illegal charges filed by the Philippine police in Sagay, following the legal assistance she provided to a mother who wanted to get the custody of her 14-year-old son who witnessed and survived the infamous massacre in Hacienda Nene, which claimed the lives of nine farmers and minors.
“I only did what is right. That’s why I find this very irritating,” she quipped.
In an earlier statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said that the accusations against her are “malicious, contrived and have no legal and factual basis to stand on.” No less than the 14-year-old boy’s mother Flordeliza Cabahug has disputed the claims of the police but Chief Supt. John Bulalacao, director of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Western Visayas.
An obvious choice
Her family initially thought that Panguban will go for corporate law, after having good bar examination results for commercial law and taxation. But deviating from the mainstream practice of law was an obvious choice for Panguban who passed the 2015 bar examinations. After all, it was her days as a full-time community organizer for women’s group Gabriela that compelled her to study law.
Panguban was a student activist back in her days as university student, majoring in History, where she was often teased as “dragonesa” and “maldita.” She was a member of Gabriela – Youth in the University of the Philippines – Diliman.
After her graduation, she became a full-time community organizer in Barangay Silangan in Quezon City, where she became even more exposed to the plight of the urban poor.
It was the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy, a typhoon that brought heavy flooding in Metro Manila and Rizal province back in 2009, Panguban recalled, and instead of providing urgently needed assistance, she said, the Philippine government wanted to demolish the homes of urban poor families in the guise of removing them from so-called “danger zones.”
Panguban said the local government was using so-called “legal basis” to justify the displacing of urban poor families. When she cited the Urban Development and Housing Act in one of the dialogues with then Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte, the latter told her: “You could not understand because you are not a lawyer.”
Years later, Belmonte, then House Speaker, invited all the bar-passers working in the House of Representatives for dinner and Panguban was conveniently too busy to attend.
As a lawyer
While studying in law school, Panguban worked as a legislative staff and paralegal for Gabriela Women’s Party, where she was further exposed to cases of human rights violations, particularly on violence committed against women and children.
She served as paralegal to big cases such as the rape case against Pantabangan Vice Mayor Romeo Borja, who was later found guilty.
After passing the bar examinations, Panguban had the opportunity of cross-examining Borja.
“I have already memorized the case that I know when I am being lied to,” she said.
Panguban was also a part of the legal team that looked into the case filed by television host Sugar Mercado.
When she began working as a lawyer for the NUPL’s national office early this year, Panguban began handling more cases and responded to more quick reaction teams. She wrote press releases and pleadings, represented political prisoners before courts, among others.
Panguban also served as one of the prosecutors – working along with long-time human rights lawyers former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, NUPL secretary general Ephraim Cortez, and Jan Fermon of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers – in the International People’s Tribunal held in Brussels that found President Rodrigo Duterte guilty of violating the Filipino people’s political, social, economic, and cultural rights.
But the closest case to her heart was that of the deportation case of Australian missionary nun Sr. Patricia Fox, who recently flew back to Australia after Immigration authorities refused to renew her visa.
“Iniyakan ko talaga yun,” she said.
Panguban, too, teaches human rights law in Adamson’s University. She is also the legal aide officer of the said university.
Panguban said she could not help but be both saddened and enraged over the apparent audacity of the Sagay police to file kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges against her.
“I am also worried about it because I know how the system works as I have handled trumped-up charges against political prisoners,” she said.
She found the charges very “restricting,” most especially since many human rights cases have yet to be looked into. But Panguban remains resolute and unwavering in the face of such challenging situation.
“All your years in law school will be rendered irrelevant if it will only serve the status quo,” she said, “It is time to be relevant and breathe life to the letters of the law and make it as a potent tool to attain justice.” (Bulatlat.com)