On Global Filipinos: Losing my friends to COVID-19: Attorney Emil de Guzman (Part 1)

‘He was not just a lawyer, he was a person his clients loved.’

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

November is the Feast of All Saints Day/All Souls Day. I remember and pray for the souls of two dear friends, Attorney Emil de Guzman and Dancing Instructor Dodie Potenciano. They died this year from COVID-19.

Emil had a very successful immigration law practice in Lower Manhattan when he was stricken by the coronavirus. In five days, on March 24th, he was gone.

His bereaved wife, Emma Ruth, said that he would meet with his clients not only from the Philippines but also from Korea, Japan, South and Central America, Egypt, and other countries and would bring the client into the conference room for privacy. That was probably how he got the virus.

Emil was two years below me at the University of the Philippines College of Law. He graduated at 22 years old, the youngest graduate in the law school’s history. His mother enrolled him in Grade 1 when he was only 4 years old!

Emma Ruth Diaz met him at the Central United Methodist Church in Ermita, while he was reviewing for the Bar Examinations. There was immediate chemistry. Both of them are from Pangasinan and both belonged to the same church and were devoted Christians.

Emil donated hectares of land for a children’s school in Dagupan City in Pangasinan province. Also in photo is wife Emma Ruth.
Emil, at far left, when he was christened ‘The Benjamin,’ the youngest in the UP College of Law 1969 Class. He became a lawyer at 22.

When Emma Ruth was transferred to Japan by her work with Crowell McMillan, Emil followed her in Tokyo because he was the lawyer for the Fuji-Xerox Manila. They got married in Japan in 1977, and Emil stayed comfortably as Corporate Counsel to Fuji-Xerox for seven years.

Emma Ruth and Emil studied at the Sofia University in Tokyo for their MBA in International Business. At the same time, she was teaching at the Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku University in Tokyo, Japan. Then, destiny took a turn.

During one of Emil’s visits to New York, he bumped into a Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brother, Atty. Roman Mosqueda, his schoolmate at UP Law School. With the encouragement and help from Mosqueda, Emil was able to gain approval from New York State Bar Association to practice law in New York State without having studied in a U.S. law school and without taking the NY bar exams.

So, in 1981, the couple immigrated to The Big Apple. His first office in New York was with the lawyer son of William Quasha, Emil’s boss, in the Philippines where he worked after passing the Philippine Bar. 

Emma Ruth, in the beginning, admitted that they had very little funds but plenty of credentials. Eventually, Emma Ruth, who spoke Japanese and several other languages, was eventually hired by Goldman Sachs. A few months later, she was pirated by Nippon Kangyo Kakumaru, a Japanese trading house on Wall Street. With a generous compensation she was able to put together enough capital for Emil to start his own law office.

He loved to play the classics on the piano.

After a couple of years on Wall Street, they decided to adopt as son from Manila in 1986 whom they named Solomon Emildavid. Senator Miriam Defensor, Emil’s classmate in UP took care of the legal work and in two years, Solomon was able to join his parents in the U.S.

Before Solomon turned 2, they were praying to adopt a Korean baby girl. Sure enough, one of their Korean clients provided them information of a baby who was being offered for adoption for religious reasons. As soon as the baby girl was born, within three days, Emil and Emma Ruth brought their daughter in their home in Passaic Park, New Jersey. They named her Takkrid, an amalgam of several names.

During quiet evenings, Emil would play classics on the piano. Emma Ruth would sing as a soprano. Both Solomon and Takkrid would play their violins. Solomon at times would join his mother singing. Now, Solomon is a veterinarian who always loved animals growing up. Takkrid is finishing her MD/PhD.

Last year, Emil and Emma Ruth returned to the Philippines to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Emil’s UP law class of 1969. Among those in attendance were former Senate President Franklin Drilon and racing track billionaire Boy Reyno. The late Senator Miriam Defensor was blatantly missed during the milestone reunion.

Up to now, Emma Ruth continues to receive emails, letters, texts, and telephone calls from clients of Emil. He was not only their lawyer, he was also their counselor who advised them on family matters. They never forget to tell her how much they loved him.

Emma Ruth shared her husband’s philosophy.  “The practice of law is not just a profession. It is a calling to serve.” Emil did not just serve God as an ordained Minister, but served humanity with his life by his service to God’s people.

NEXT: Dancing Instructor Dodie Potenciano

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