Dennis B. Funa was a happy-go-lucky person in his 20s, as he described himself in his earlier years, but the many achievements under his belt at an early age proved otherwise.
“I was never a serious student in my high-school years, maybe I was what you can call a happy-go-lucky person. I only became a serious student when I entered the college of law, such that in the college of law I never failed a single subject, I took my studies seriously,” Funa told the BusinessMirror.
When he was 25, Funa was studying hard to become a lawyer at the San Beda College of Law in Mendiola. Before he graduated with a bachelor of laws degree from the law school, he became part of the school’s Law Student Council as an executive committee member, he was a dean’s lister on his freshman and sophomore years and he also become the founding president of the Hukuman Student Political Party.
“When I was 25, I was third-year law student in the college of law, I was a full-time law student. I was not working. I graduated in 1985 from De La Salle University, and I didn’t think that I was prepared yet at that time to work, so I hung around for a few months doing nothing until I decided to take up law at San Beda,” he recalled.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce, Major in Marketing degree from De La Salle University, the young Funa did not look for a job immediately but decided to take time off to really understand what he wanted to do with his life.
He attended San Beda College High School for his secondary education, and the Saint Francis Xavier School of New York, in the United States for his primary education. In his elementary years, he graduated with honors and was awarded by the Archdiocese of New York City for academic excellence in science and mathematics—a pretty big feat at a young age.
After finishing law school and taking the bar exam in 1992, Funa took on his first job as a campaign staff member of former President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR), guided by his uncle who was a Ramos supporter.
“Well my first job when I was waiting for the results of the bar exams, I was part of the campaign staff of President Ramos because I have an uncle who was one of his supporters, Gov. Leandro Verceles of Catanduanes,” he said.
When Ramos won the presidential elections in 1992, Funa was asked to work in Malacañang as assistant to the appointment secretary of the president, mostly handling the scheduling of appointments of the former president.
“When FVR won, automatically I got a job in Malacañang, first as his special assistant to the appointment secretary of the president, who arranges all the schedule of the president,” he added.
A few months after, he was transferred to the office of the chief presidential legal counsel, and was able to work in Malacañang until the end of the term of Ramos. Funa was the youngest presidential appointee at the time.
“And then after a few months, I transferred to the office of the chief presidential legal counsel, who was Antonio T. Carpio, now the senior associate justice of the Supreme Court (SC). So I actually worked in the government until 1998, which is the end of the term of FVR, so I completed the six years of his presidency,” he added.
Funa was a 1997 scholar of the London-based International Bar Association in its Biennial Conference in New Delhi, India, and of the Association for Overseas Technical Scholarship in Tokyo, Japan. At the age of 28, he was also appointed as executive director of the Videogram Regulatory Board, which is now known as the Optical Media Board, where he concurrently served as the ex-officio member of the Presidential Inter-Agency Committee on Intellectual Property Rights and Ex-Officio Member of the National Law Enforcement
When he finished his career in Malacañang, Funa then decided to maximize his learnings from law school and went into private practice. He started his own law firm and became an active member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
Funa said he took on the position of national director for Bar Discipline at the IBP, which he said was more of a “service-oriented advocacy” to the law community. The IBP is a body that investigates all disbarment cases filed before the SC.
“After that I went to the private practice of law, I set up my own law firm and, at the same time, I was active with the IBP. I became an officer of the IBP, I was the national director for bar discipline, it is not a job, it is more of an advocacy, a service-oriented advocacy,” he said.
In his private-law practice, Funa was a managing partner at the Funa Balayan Fortes Galandines Villagonzalo & Jimenea Law Offices, and in June 2007 he was named and awarded as the Most Outstanding Commissioner of the IBP.
In 2013 he was presented with the opportunity again to work in the government but Funa was not too keen on accepting it because he still had his private practice.
However, former Insurance Commissioner Emmanuel F. Dooc was able to convince him to become one of his deputy commissioners.
“In 2013 I was invited to be the deputy commissioner for legal services of the Insurance Commission [IC] by Dooc. I was really not too keen because I had my law practice. So whether I got a job in the government, parang nonchalant ako, hindi naman ako masyadong naghahabol,” he said.
He remembers the day too well, since the offer to work with the IC coincided with his birthday. Funa was not able to assume his post as deputy commissioner immediately since he still had clients to attend to at his law firm.
“Commissioner Dooc said, ‘Oh signed na ’yung appointment mo.’ And I told him, sir it’s my birthday today, so I thanked him but I said I cannot assume the post immediately because I still have my clients. And I still had to finish many things with the law firm. So I was pressured to immediately finish my pending matters with the law firm,” he added.
In December 2016, when Dooc was assigned to head the Social Security System (SSS) instead of the IC, Funa was appointed by President Duterte to takeover. Despite not being too eager to return to a career in the government, Funa said he is still “very thankful” to the President for his trust in him.
“In 2013 I was ambivalent, I think that was the proper word, an accurate term. Now, I appreciate the trust of President Duterte and I am also very much aware of the challenges. There are many risks in being an insurance commissioner because there are issues that have to be decided on by the commissioner that are novel so it can go wrong, it can be right,” Funa said.