Townsfolk’s lawyer: as I remember Kuyang

He was a dead ringer for the late film actor Eddie Rodriguez.  He appeared in courts immaculately dressed in barong Tagalog or suit and tie because “good appearance” counts in court trials.  He was the abogado ng bayan (literally “townsfolk’s lawyer”) who never turned down penniless people who sought his legal service.  He must have handled more than a hundred court cases but never made a fortune from those largely “gratis et amore” cases and died a man of modest means.

Atty. Fermin B. Catacutan was born to a farming family in the rustic town of Talavera, Nueva Ecija.  He started as a grade school teacher in Talavera.  He taught me how to read and write in Pilipino at age five when nursery schooling in the Philippines was still many years into the future.  His former grade school pupils have only good words to say about him and glowing accounts of his tutoring.

He would later work his way through law school and was among the top ten passers of the bar examinations with a score of 85%.  The image of my mother jumping with joy and yelling to my father when she read about it in the morning paper is still vivid in my mind.

Lucrative job offers from big corporations and established law firms came his way but he opted to pursue a more modest private practice.  I was often tempted to ask him why, but I guess only a lawyer true to his or her sworn profession would understand and appreciate the nobleness of lawyering for the poor.

His union with the late Teodora Jimenez-Catacutan, a retired grade school teacher whom we fondly called Ate Loleng, produced four children:  Ric, Cynthia, Nancy and Gerry.  Ric, the eldest, died during infancy.  Cynthia, a software engineer, completed both her undergraduate and graduate studies in the USA and lives with her family in California.  Nancy, an academician with a doctorate degree, and Gerry, a civil engineer, opted to pursue professional careers and raise families in the Philippines.

A devout Catholic and lay worker, Kuyang was a pioneering organizer of the Cursillo movement in the Philippines.  Prominent members of his kawan (religious flock) included the film actress and charity worker Rosa Rosal whose charitable activities he fully supported.

Kuyang became a sort of a hometown celebrity after he successfully pursued the electoral protest lodged by our hometown politician Leopoldo Diaz against the then incumbent congressman Eugenio Baltao.  His diligence and painstaking work caused the invalidation of spurious votes for Baltao by the electoral tribunal and paved the way for Diaz assuming his seat in Congress as the “duly elected” representative of the first district of Nueva Ecija.

One can fairly say too, with no exaggeration, that the Pantabangan dam hydro-electric complex in the province of Nueva Ecija (which was sponsored in Congress by congressman Diaz and is now benefiting 1.8 million Novo Ecijanos with supply of electricity and irrigation/household water) also owed its existence “in part” to the good work of Kuyang as lawyer and legislative consultant of Diaz for years. 

Kuyang also held the distinction, albeit unbeknown up till now, as one of only few lawyers who succeeded in defending and absolving a person charged with rebellion before a “military court” at the height of the repressive martial law regime in the Philippines. 

He could have been a successful local politician — a town mayor, a congressman, or who knows what.  But he chose to remain a townsfolk’s lawyer, correctly believing that service to others comes in many modes and forms.

Lawyers have been ridiculed, vilified and heaped with scorns since biblical times.  Some of them are true; others are simply unfounded or downright generalization.  For the most of part of his work as a lawyer, Kuyang earned his wages in sacks of rice, farm produce, and the gratitude of pro bono clients.

He did not handle sensational or high-profile court cases like de-campanilla Estelito Mendoza, or Rene Saguisag, or Alan Dershowitz.  But that does not diminish the significance and the goodness of his work, which is certainly well worthy of emulation by the young breed of idealistic lawyers.

I still miss Kuyang.  He was my big brother, mentor, benefactor and critic.  I also miss those days when I would drive him to his out-of-town court hearings or short visits to our parents and folks in Talavera.  Those long drives tempered my radical social and political views with his moderate outlook on life.

Here’s to you Kuyang:  “silently he labored at the good work, unheralded but celebrated in the hearts and minds of many, made weak by time but steadfast in conviction to the very end.”

Author:  Rene “RC” Catacutan
Published 31 October 2011



Some still pictures of Kuyang’s family

(Photo credit:  Cynthia Catacutan-Krishnan of California, USA)

My late Kuyang, Atty. Fermin B. Catacutan

My late Ate Loleng, Mrs. Teodora Jimenez-Catacutan

Ate Loleng with the young Gerry, Cynthia and Nancy

Cynthia and her husband Krishnan

Nancy (left) on a visit to Cynthia’s family in California, USA

Gerry and his wife Ellen

Cynthia on a visit to Ate Loleng and Gerry in 2009

Cynthia’s family on a Mother’s Day outing (L-R: Krishnan, Cynthia, sons Richard and Michael, and daughter Jennifer Bavani)

Nancy and her daughter Reich with Cynthia and her sons Richard and Michael at the garden of the Krishnan residence in California, USA

Some of Kuyang’s grandchildren, L-R: Joseph, Jennifer Bavani, Reich, Mary Ann, Billy and Jeng

Images of some famous lawyers in history (in alphabetical order)

Abraham Lincoln of USA ( 1809-1865).  A self-taught lawyer who became the 16th President of the United States of America, Lincoln introduced measures that resulted in the abolition of slavery and also defeated the secessionist Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

Alan Dershowitz of USA (born in 1938).  One of the most famous lawyers in the world, Dershowitz has won numerous distinctions for his work in civil rights.  He practiced a great deal of criminal law and was involved in several of the most high-profile court cases in USA, including the trials of Patricia Hearst, Mike Tyson and OJ Simpson.





Clarence Darrow of USA (1857-1938).  Easily the most famous lawyer in America in the 19th century, Darrow is known for courtroom eloquence and oratorical skills.  His most famous trials have been dramatized on stage and screen.




Estelito Mendoza of the Philippines (born in 1930).  A Harvard law school graduate and the epitomy of abogado de campanilla in the Philippines, Mendoza is reputedly the most expensive member of the Philippine Bar.  He served as Philippine Solicitor General, Minister of Justice and Pampanga Governor before gaining reputation as a controversial trial lawyer depending former Philippine presidents Ferdinand Marcos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo, including high-profile cases of business tycoons Eduardo Cojuangco and Lucio Tan. 

Hillary Rodham Clinton of USA (born in 1947).  One of the most famous women in recent history, Clinton is the current US Secretary of State, former US First Lady and former US Senator from New York.  She is married to former US President William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton, forming one of the most powerful political partnerships since FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt.  

John Grisham of USA (born in 1955).  A former politician, retired lawyer and novelist, Grisham is best known for his works of modern legal drama.  As of 2008, his books have sold over 235 million copies worldwide.





Mohandas Gandhi of India (1869-1948).  He was a major political and spiritual leader of India who pioneered Satyagraha — a philosophy that is largely concerned with truth and resistance to evil through active non-violent resistance — which led India to independence from British rule and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.




Sandra Day O’Connor of USA (born in 1930).  Best known as the first woman to serve as a justice in the 191-year history of the United States Supreme Court.




Thurgood Marshall of USA (1908-1993).  Even more than Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the rise of civil rights movement and eradication of discriminatory laws against African-Americans can be attributed to the works of Marshall.  Whereas, King and others led the battles in streets, Marshall led the battles in court and has easily become one of America’s most historic lawyers.