Victor Sison: They call him ‘Father-Judge’

Honored by the New Jersey Legal Services for his ‘tireless efforts in helping secure for…disadvantaged clients a greater measure of justice.’ Photo by Boyet Loverita

By Maricar CP Hampton

Judge Victor Sison, 78, knows the pain of bullying.

His only son, Karl, suffered harassment and physical violence in front of his home. The effect on his family was so much they had to move from their long time Jersey City residence to North Plainfield also in New Jersey.

“Karl, when he was young, was beaten up by Filipino thugs. It was such a clear case of bullying and he ended up in the hospital,” he said. As a father, and a lawyer, he sought justice for his son.

Here’s the part of the story where the narrative came with a chuckle. “The bullies called themselves AKP  for Ang Kute Pinoy. They came to my office and pleaded with me to drop the case. I agreed on the condition that they paid the medical bills,” he said. They never paid.

Ordained in Rome

Attorney-at-Law Victor Sison has been a practicing lawyer in New Jersey for nearly 30 years. His closest friends in PAFCOM where he was once the Grand Marshal and the Senor Presidente, and the Knights of Rizal which conferred on him the highest award of Knight Grand Commander of Rizal, love to be in his company because of his colorful recollection of his past. Such as when he became an ordained priest in Rome.

An altar boy at 12, his journey to the priesthood started early. “I never went to a Catholic school, but I grew up in a religious family,” he began. “Our mother would force us to pray the rosary daily.” Born and raised in Malasiqui, Pangasinan,  Sison is the fourth of 10 siblings. His father was a lawyer and a municipal court judge and his mother ran a fashion and embroidery school.

One day, Columban Irish nuns came to his school.

Newly ordained and celebrating his first mass in the city of Frascati in Rome.

“Talking to these nuns, who had a funny accent, we just replied yes to everything they said, just to get rid of them. When I got home my mom said the nuns informed her that I  wanted to be a priest. I answered, ‘I said yes to everything they asked, because I did not understand what they were talking about.’”

He joined his friends in the seminary, unsure about this vocation he was about to pursue. In1963, he left the Philippines for Rome to study at the Gregorian University and the Pontifical Biblical Institute, both elite schools for seminarians and priests. He was a scholar of his archdiocese. He studied in Rome for almost 9 years until he obtained his Doctorate Magna Cum Laude at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in 1972.

He returned home and found himself teaching in the Immaculate Conception School of Theology of  Vigan City, Ilocos Sur from 1973 to 1986, as an exegete (a person who interprets the Scriptures) and dogma professor, simultaneously serving as the dean of Studies. He also became the university chaplain of the University of Northern Philippines.

He took a break from teaching and returned to the U.S.  in 1986. The sabbatical gave him enough time to reflect on his career-path. While at the crossroads, he found a teaching-job at a private college in New Jersey.

His sister, an executive at the NY Transit Authority  teased him about his pittance-salary as a teacher. She managed to get him a job at the Transit Authority. His new boss, upon seeing his resume, his educational background and the multiple languages he spoke, suggested he was better off being a lawyer. Sison followed the advice. He attended night school at Rutgers University in Newark and passed the New Jersey and New York bars in 1992.

In the summer of 1993, he opened his private law practice: Sison Law Offices PC at 533 Central Avenue, Jersey City. It was one of the pioneer law offices in Jersey City owned by a Filipino American. For 29 years, he took cases on immigration, real estate, bankruptcy, family, estate planning, landlord-tenant issues, and municipal court-related issues.

Sison and family: Son Karl, daughter-in-law Geraldine, and wife Irene.
With wife Irene. ‘She is very kind.’

“About 90 percent of my clients are Filipinos, but since I speak Italian, Spanish, French and German I get clients from other nationalities,” he said.

Ten years later, he became a municipal court judge. Glenn Cunningham, the then-mayor of Jersey City, appointed him to the position. Twice, the New Jersey Legal Services, in 2010 and then again in 2017, awarded him the Equal Justice Medal for his “continuing commitment and tireless efforts in helping address the legal needs of disadvantaged clients and secure for them a greater measure of justice.”

At  78, Sison remains very active with various community organizations. He and Irene, whom he met in Vigan, are such wanderlusts traveling through the Philippines, Europe, and Asia, visiting places, like Rome, replete with memories, causing him to reflect on “what might have been.”

Asian hate

The priestly life has given Sison a spiritual spin behind developments around the world. Asked about his views on anti-Asian violence, he believes the attacks manifest a “cycle of racism.” He would like to see Filipinos and others protect themselves more.

He explained: “Man’s nature is wounded. All this violence is due to man’s innate imperfection, in crying need of God’s saving grace. Unless one is religiously oriented, his perspective is scarred.”

The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said, is a time given to everyone to “reflect and pray.”  He recalled his 2019 visits to St. Petersburg, Russia as well as Kyiv, Ukraine, and how such beautiful cities may have been demolished by the ugliness of the war.

He has recently recovered from COVID-19, his infection detected in December 2020. “I could not breathe; I was taken to the emergency.” He spent weeks in meditation. “I had all the time to reflect and make amends for any misdeeds I may have done to others. I prayed the rosary every day.”

© The FilAm 2022

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