ATTY. DAN ADAN: A good soul, a good lawyer

By DOODS & SOL SANTOS, 5 May 2021, Naga City


ATTY. VICENTE DANTE “DAN” P. ADAN (30 May 1967 - 1 May 2021) of San Jose, Camarines Sur, passed away at nearly 54 years of age at the Bicol Medical Center, Naga City, due to Covid-19, like the deadly thief in the night that it is, never to be underestimated. This unexpected and untimely quick loss of Dan who was close to us as a family friend has hit us particularly hard, including about the close reality of this terrible pandemic of more than a year already with no end in sight yet. Harder for us to accept is the injustice of it all, as the good, kind soul who was Dan certainly did not deserve this fate in the sense of “everyone being given his due,” including by the public health system of our country. In our own small way, allow us to redress a bit the loss of Dan by doing some justice to the memory of his person, his life, and his work from the time we got to know him up close and personal.


A true person for others

By Doods Santos


Dan was a lifelong friend and confidante ever since he became my student at the Ateneo de Naga. He was one of my brightest students, yet far more important than his academic prowess, was his kindness, goodness, and spirit of service as a true person for others.


His good friend Ramil Orgaya reminded me of how he and Dan became the editors of the Ateneo de Naga college paper The Pillars as I was their adviser at the time. They were scheduled to compete in a one-on-one writing test to determine who would get the top position. Dan opted out of that test. Rather than risk friendship and peace and to avoid competitiveness that might mar a good working relationship, Dan conceded the position to Ramil. That, friends, tells us what kind of person Dan was.


The next year, Dan won as the Ateneo de Naga student government President. After graduation in the early 1990s, he became the hero of their Accounting batch. As the only graduate to pass the Board Exam without even attending a formal review, he saved the school from the ignominy of a zero-passing rate. He could not do a formal review because he was then campaigning as municipal councilor in his hometown of San Jose, Camarines Sur. He won and immersed himself in community work. As an Ateneo de Naga instructor also at the time, he often had to donate his salary as teacher to help the people in his fourth-class municipality. I suspect he subsidized the costs of bringing our production of Rudy Alano’s Bikol adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to perform for the people of his town.


We kept in touch even after he had graduated and we had both moved to the Imperial City. He would drop by just to talk, often during his low moments, to vent about heartbreak, disappointment, exhaustion, and frustration about relationships and work. But we also talked when he was happy and excited about an idea, a project, and a good deed, such as his volunteer defense of CJ Davide from malversation charges. We discussed feudalism in Partido, land-grabbing politicians in Camarines Sur, a useless government office which issued land titles without following procedure, corruption, and justice issues. He expressed his concern about students who did not read, and asked advice about helping a nephew with a research project. He also loved literature and occasionally shared his poems with me. Merlinda Bobis remembers him as someone who could recite from memory one of her early poems many years after they had last seen each other. She said this is the way she “will always remember Dan: reciting poetry, alive!”


Dan was my go-to person in two fields. The first was Accounting and Law. I referred him to friends needing help with tax matters, liquidating accounts of cultural projects with the government, a neighborhood dispute, settling properties of friends abroad, and a land dispute of a poor couple. The second field was Bikol vocabulary, orthography, and grammar. He educated me on the various meanings of orag and furnished the title for our Bikol book project, Sagurong. When I asked him for a Bikol term for tolerance, he coined the word mapaniyaba: “we tolerate because we care, not because we are indifferent; pabaya is reckless, payaba is beloved.”


His mind was full of good deeds, ideas, and plans, mostly to help others. His interests were so diverse, his plans doable, if only given time and resources. He wanted to form farmers’ coops, design unique barongs, produce gulaman from the seaweed in Lagonoy Gulf to help fisherfolk, make specialty candles, create rosary beads from typhoon detritus, sell sleeping Joseph figurines he sculpted. He sold flores para los muertos on November 1 to help young relatives, thought of growing natong to help farmers earn, and planned to put up a food stall business featuring laing sushi and tinuktok. He had gone to the extent of leasing a stall along Maginhawa in Quezon City for a future food business years ago. Just before the pandemic, he was setting up a restaurant along Peñafrancia Avenue in Naga Centro. He had several book projects too—an annotated Election Code written back in 2007 which had to be revised when elections were automated, a Partido dictionary for which he had already listed words for Caramoan fish and notes for Partido syntax, reflections on the rosary, and his poems which he said still needed revision. But he was too busy working and did not have the time, resources, and support to see any of those projects through. Then the next idea came along, without ever really letting go of all the other ideas. At one point a couple of years ago, when he was excited about his latest project, I suggested that he focus on just one thing that he really wanted to do and see it to fruition, since he was not getting any younger. I also suggested a thoroughgoing market study and the systematic building up of resources.


Fortunately, fellow Atenean Ronald ‘Bong’ Rodriguez came home, wanting to help his home region as well, and equipped with the talent, drive, and means. Dan and Bong initiated GIBO, Inc. to help farmers, as well as ABS-CBN employees who were laid off, to organize cooperatives. Dan said they were helping farmers focus on farm productivity, and as coop members, could venture into food processing later on. I suggested that he review the experiences of failed cooperatives in Bikol. I also gave him a copy of Asuncion Sebastian’s Dungganon on how the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation managed their cooperatives. Perhaps, he could glean lessons from the Negros experience for Gibo.


Two threads ran through Dan’s cornucopia of ideas and projects. First was helping others, his nephews and nieces, the farmers and fisherfolk of his fourth-class hometown whom he often immersed himself in. The other was his deep and abiding faith; no tribute would be complete without mentioning this. He was vocal about his faith even among agnostic and atheist friends. Carving miniature Sleeping Joseph figures with dental tools in resin was his therapy during one low moment in his career; his reflections on the rosary came in an epiphany. He was always talking about embarking on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage walk with former classmate Aimee Beluang, and he walked many kilometers a day to train for it. At one point, he told me that he wanted to be a monk, in total reclusion, but could not turn his back on his many responsibilities. His faith kept him ever hopeful in disappointment and disaster. In the aftermath of three typhoons last November during the ongoing pandemic, his Christmas message to me was “Sa tahaw kan inaatubang na mga agyat sa padagos na paghingoha na maparahay an pagbuhay kan gabos, may paglaom huli ta yaon pirmi an Diyos. Maogmang Pasko!”


A good and generous soul, he was always proud of his friends’ achievements with no trace of envy or jealousy. Given his income as CPA and lawyer, he could have bought himself more material things. Instead, he spent his funds helping others and funding his advocacies. He did not charge for cases that he knew clients did not have money for. He did dream of building an all-bamboo house and once told me about a plan for a small retirement village for himself and other single retirees among friends and classmates for mutual support.


He had a good work ethic. He told me one time how he had to read stacks and stacks of papers to prepare for an election case and had not slept a wink. He was dismayed by lazy lawyers who did not do their homework, yet who pretended to be experts.


While he was kind and generous, Dan expressed righteous anger at meanness, greed, injustice, and arrogance, whether of those in government, in his field of law, or of certain individuals in our circles, some of whom he had helped. Forgiveness saved some of these relationships; the other abusive ones not worth saving, he very wisely gave up so he could focus on truer friends and concerns.


There is much more I could say about Dan as a person and as a friend, but these will just be more words and platitudes. Instead, let me try to divine the sense of why the good Dan had to die. I believe Covid alone did not kill him. The rotten system, or more precisely the lack of a system to address the pandemic in a more efficient way, did. He was not tested, much less treated in a timely manner, even if on Day 5 of exposure, he had reported to the hospital. Neither was he treated on Day 9, when the symptoms had started. By Day 11, his condition had severely deteriorated. It was too late to save him on Day 13 when he was finally confined and needed oxygen support. He passed in the wee hours of Day 15.


I do not agree that Dan had to die because it was God’s will. I think that would be an insult to Dan’s all-loving God for snuffing the life out of a fine and kind person who was doing so much good to serve the sadit na tawo.


Perhaps Dan had to die to hammer in the fact of the government’s lack of readiness and planning, where everyone has to fend for one’s self, except of course for the well-connected ones who are probably given priorities for care and vaccine.


Perhaps he had to die to wake us out of our fatalism and complacency, to speak out and to act, as a young Sasah Sta. Rosa and Ana Patricia Non have done, only to be persecuted.


Perhaps Dan also had to die to shake us all out of our individual complacency, and to call out local officials who violate quarantine, joke about group drinking not causing Covid, and tolerate mass gatherings. To remind us again and again to curb our Pinoy desire to socialize especially those among us who go out unnecessarily, buot sabihon bako para sa kabuhayan o mabuhay, despite knowing how flawed and lacking and fatigued the medical system is now, and knowing how inutile the government is.


Let me quote Dan himself to you now in this regard, though he be cold ashes in an urn:


We are left to fend for ourselves. Necessity makes [people] take risks, even courting trouble for doing prohibited acts. When government and authorities fail, people will find ways to adapt.


Infections and deaths in one’s own circle will teach people how to keep themselves safe. Hard way to learn, but we are nowhere out of the bush with this virus.


Dan’s passing has indeed been a hard way for us to learn. Sad to say, as of this writing, I seriously doubt that we have learned yet from the infections and deaths in our own circle, from him who we mourn today, given all the social media posts. Do we really need more good persons like Dan, or our own loved ones to die, to learn how to keep safe in this benighted republic and to demand a better management of the pandemic from the government?


Dan, may you find peace, justice, love, and the God you had such great faith in your final Camino walk. May your memory help us find our own justice, love, and peace in this world.


A big loss for the Philippine bar

By Sol Santos


I got to know Dan of course through Doods.  But it was not until much later in the late 1990s and early 2000s while all three of us were temporarily based in Quezon City that Dan and I got to work together as law associates, me the senior and he the junior, in private practice.  By that time, Dan was a relatively new graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law.  For me coming from a provincial law school at the University of Nueva Caceres in Naga City and from law practice in the province of Camarines Sur in the earlier years, it did not take long for me to see the trademark quality of UP Law graduates.  Of course, whether for UP or for “others,” that is not only a law school proposition but also an individual or person-to-person proposition.  The good lawyer is best when he or she is a good person to start with.  And that was Dan the good soul, as Doods tells us.


My law practice association with Dan was very informal or ad hoc, one not in the usual law office sense.  My house was the “office” address but we both basically worked, especially the writing part, from our respective homes, which in Dan’s case tended to be “no permanent address” for some spells. We called this something like “guerrilla lawyering.”  Ad hoc because our law association tended to be only for selected cases.  Actually, they were just a handful but they were memorable.  The most memorable of these was the «Abadilla 5» case (for the 1996 car-ambush murder of Col. Rolando Abadilla) which I started to handle only in late 1999 as a defense counsel during the reconsideration stage after convictions in the RTC of Quezon City.  Dan joined me as my collaborating counsel in later years when the case was in the Court of Appeals.  By the time the case reached the Supreme Court En Banc for automatic review in 2010, I had already joined the judiciary as a MCTC Judge in Nabua-Bato, Camarines Sur. Although we had worked together on the petitions and other submissions, I had to withdraw as counsel of record and Dan then took over as such.  This was just as well because of his excellent, incisive and well-researched contributions to our pleadings. I think I learned more from him here than he did from me.  The convictions were finally affirmed but with strong dissents by such reputable Justices as Carpio, Carpio-Morales, Abad and Sereno. I see particularly in Justice Carpio›s Dissenting Opinion on the flaws in the photographic, police line-up and in-court identifications of the accused, as well as in Justice Abad›s Dissenting Opinion on the insufficient credibility of the prosecution›s sole eyewitness, many of Dan›s legal arguments in our briefs.  Aside from that well-respected validation of sorts, I was also at least happy that Dan›s name, even without mine anymore, was the first appearing in the list of counsels for Lumanog vs. People, 630 SCRA 42, at 53 (2010) and 642 SCRA 248, at 250 (2011).     


I am further proud to say that our names were however mentioned together as co-counsels and the first appearing in the list of counsels for Southern Hemisphere Engagement Network, Inc. vs. Anti-Terrorism Council, 632 SCRA 146, at 162 (2010).  This was the Supreme Court Decision dismissing the Petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Human Security Act of 2007 on procedural grounds basically of un-ripeness for adjudication, practically requiring that the petitioners must first be charged with violation of the HSA so that they may be said to have legal standing in an actual controversy and only then could the SC take cognizance of the case.  But Justice Abad in his one-paragraph Concurring Opinion said “that as the grounds for dismissal are more procedural than substantive, our decision in these consolidated cases does not definitively uphold the validity of the questioned law. The specific questions raised by the petitioners against R.A. 9372 may be raised in the proper forum if and when an actual controversy arises and becomes ripe for adjudication.”  Unfortunately, no such occasion arose and that law was overtaken by the event of another, repealing law.  Ironically but unsurprisingly, the Office of the Solicitor General is now invoking the Southern Hemisphere main ruling, among others, for the similar dismissal of the currently pending 37 Petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Let us see what happens here.  Among the lessons that Dan and I learned in SC litigation is that the SC will rule on the merits when it wants to, and will decline to rule on the merits when it does not want to. The legal reasons either way are, for all intents and purposes, secondary.


Well, Dan and I did not only lose cases in the SC but got ourselves immortalized for it in the SCRA.  Though we sort of console ourselves that the losing cases are often the more notable and memorable ones, we did also win some cases though not in the SC. The most memorable of those was an inheritance case actually in a U.S. tribunal.  Of course, we did not go there and enter our appearances as counsels. But we prepared a brief for an American lawyer that went into a necessary Philippine legal history discussion on the applicable law in the Philippines during the American colonial period, showing certain common law elements in the Philippine mixed legal system.  And we did this before Dean Pacifico A. Agabin’s UP Law 2011 centennial book Mestizo: The Story of the Philippine Legal System came out.  But what clinched the case was Dan’s detective work in tracking down in a province north of Manila, with the leads given by one of our clients from the Cayaban family, a crucial piece of old correspondence that established their hereditary link to the U.S.-based spinster decedent.  We could not believe that we had practically pulled this victory off in a U.S. tribunal.  Our clients here were a U.S.-based high school batchmate of mine and her Q.C.-based elder sister who later became my friend for some other historical research.   


More years later, by 2016 or thereabouts, Dan would re-base in his home province of Camarines Sur and would inevitably appear as a counsel in several cases before my RTC Naga City Branch 61.  Of course, I would disclose to all case counsels my previous law association with Dan and make clear, especially to Dan, that I would only handle his cases for an amicable or compromise settlement effort, failing which I would then voluntarily inhibit myself from the case.  Strangely, it seems to me now, I cannot recall any compromise settlement of any of Dan’s past cases before me.  Dan’s remaining pending case before me, a three-sided land sale case, is in the make-or-break point of my settlement effort, and now Dan died before seeing the dawn of a settlement or the plunge to full-blown litigation here.  Truth to tell, Dan and I had our own lawyer-judge tensions about this.  He was still of our old adversarial lawyering mode, while I was of course no longer of that mode as a Judge, starting with being a “Justice of the Peace” in my Nabua Court and later also my Balatan Court. To illustrate from this latest case of Dan before me, he would manifest several times during settlement exploration conferences words to this effect:  “We have always been ready to litigate the issue at hand, but we gave the other parties the time they need to come to an agreement between themselves... Should that not be possible after all the attempts at a settlement, we shall willingly do our best to protect our clients’ interests.”  I would, on the other hand, speak to this effect:  “Guys, we have come quite far along this novel three-way compromise settlement effort.  Please don’t drop the ball, lest the opportunity be missed or lost, and things unravel, seize the moment... Guys, please keep open and keep trying, I don’t think I need say more for now, you know the principles, including legal ethics, involved around a fair and equitable compromise...  The skill, challenge and joy in crafting and achieving compromise settlements can often beat that of overrated adversarial litigation.”


One of Dan’s earlier cases before me, a probate of will case, which was not settled and so I inhibited, was raffled for trial to another, fellow RTC Naga Judge, Valentin E. Pura, Jr. of Branch 23.   When I text-informed him of Dan’s untimely and unexpected passing, Judge Pura responded in praise of Dan in this way:  “Rest in Peace po Atty. Adan.  As officer of the court, you are worth emulating.  It’s an honor to have worked with you in RTC 23.”  So there, a RTC Naga Judge’s pithy testament to Dan as a trial lawyer.   We come full circle now with his loyal law associate Atty. Jonel B. Ignacio’s own parting words for Dan:  “Atty. Dan is my first mentor in the legal profession.  He is very strict, understanding and very meticulous boss.  He always sees to it that all the pleadings before the court are very well written.  He is a good and very understanding mentor.  After a full day of work, we always end the day eating and having a cup of coffee and talking about his other advocacies outside of the legal profession.  I will truly miss him.  Rest now Atty. Dan.  Thank you for all the knowledge that you inculcated in my young legal practice.” 


I can only concur with Judge Val and Atty. Iggy.  Dan was a good lawyer and an even better person for others -- a big loss for the Philippine bar and for this world which needs more people like him.  Dan, it was indeed our privilege and honor to have known you as a friend and to have worked with you as a lawyer.  Rest in Peace and Love (R.I.P.A.L.), and help us divine whatever justice there may be in all this, after all you›ve given and much more you were to give. Dios mabalos!   VIVA, DAN!  

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NOTE ON THE AUTHORS: DOODS & SOL SANTOS are wife and husband. Paz Verdades “DOODS” M. Santos is a retired Literature Professor of the Ateneo de Naga University, a former teacher there of DAN. Soliman “SOL” M. Santos, Jr. is a Judge of RTC Branch 61 Naga City, and a former law associate of DAN.