Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bedlam at Marcelo Fernan Palace of Justice, Cebu City

 Atty. Achas sprawled on the floor of MTCC Br. 6

At 8:30 o'clock on January 22, 2013, John H. Pope, 65, Canadian National, murdered the private complainant Dr. Rene Rafols, a known Cebu pediatrician, and his lawyer Atty. Jubian Achas inside the Municipal Trial Court in Cities Br. 6 at the Marcelo Fernan Palace of Justice in Cebu City.

John H. Pope was able to enter the Palace of Justice after concealing his .357 revolver in his ankle (other reports stated he concealed it in his crotch), and a sling bag full of ammunition as well as a .45 caliber pistol. 

After shooting Dr. Rafols and Atty. Achas dead, he then walked to the other wing of the Palace towards Municipal Trial Court Br. 1 which is roughly 50 meters away and fired at Asst. Prosecutor Casino, hitting her at the back of her head, as of this writing, she is in stable condition at a local hospital awaiting surgery. He then doubled back and proceeded to look for the other Prosecutors who filed cases against him. John H. Pope's extremities were shot by PO1 Hagupit near the ground floor close to the Cebu City Prosecutor's Office before turning his own gun on himself in an apparent suicide.

It is a sad day for the legal profession and a wake up call for us lawyers, members of the judiciary, the Department of Justice, and the security personnel manning the Palace.

Bloody courtroom floor of MTCC Br.6 after the bodies of Dr. Rafols & Atty. Achas were taken to the morgue(Photo by Marion Singson)

Our colleagues had this to say:

"MY FLAG IS AT HALF-MAST TODAY. A lawyer was shot dead inside the courtroom this morning, presumably while preparing for his hearing. His client was also shot dead with him in the same courtroom. The client was a doctor.

After shooting the lawyer and the doctor dead, the gunman went to the other side of the Palace of Justice, all the way to the other wing. There he met a prosecutor and shot her, too. The prosecutor is now fighting for her life in a local hospital, and if my information is correct, if she dies, she will leave behind very young kids. She allegedly gave birth only 4 months earlier.

The reason for the shooting: the doctor sued the gunman for Illegal Possession - pending in the sala where he was shot with his lawyer, and for Grave Threats - pending in the sala where the prosecutor was shot. Despite security measures in the Palace of Justice, the gunman was able to bring in his firearm allegedly by hiding it inside a roll of newspaper.

When clients come to our offices and ask us to help them with their cases, many of them take our services for granted. Unlike doctors, the benefits we bring to the client is abstract, often unseen. And when we give them our proposal, or our bill, they often scream that we ask them for too much money.

But do we, really? What clients do not realize is that when we take on their cases, we step right in the middle of their personal wars. And while we are technically not the protagonists, we are often treated as such, and if we are not killed directly like what happened today, we still get harmed in the crossfire, one way or another.

And so we lose another brother in the profession today. And if we are even more unfortunate than we already are, we can lose one more. I wonder how many more lawyers will die like this in the future. There have already been many others in the past, and I do not know if the public even cares. From what I have seen, incidents like these hardly create a commotion. After all, when a lawyer dies, his client can always get another one, can he not?

I cry today not only in grief at the lives that have been lost. I cry because I don't think that the lawyer is getting enough respect from a public he so valiantly serves." -Atty. Aguilar
Bloody corridor near MTCC Br. 1 where Asst. Prosecutor Casino was shot at the back of her head.(Photo by Atty. Roxanne Tirol)

Another colleague likewise stated:

"The SC should realize that people who go to palaces of justice are not there to relax, enjoy or attain spiritual guidance. They are there to sue or to defend against being sued. It's already an antagonistic environment for everyone concerned. If places of relaxation put a premium on security, how much more for places where criminals and troublemakers are present on a daily basis. The presence of a lot of cops gives little comfort against deranged persons decidedly intent on a murderous rampage. We lawyers are putting ourselves in harms way everytime we go out there to advocate for someone. Sadly, no one cares about our well being than ourselves. Instead they are more concerned at burdening us more with additional duties." -Atty. Canares
Gunman John H. Pope lies bleeding from the 3 bullet wounds. 2 bullets came from PO1 Hagupit, hitting him near his hand and foot. The third bullet allegedly came from Pope's own gun as he shot himself in the head with his .357 caliber pistol. Photo from Atty. Cimafranca-Go

More poignantly, IBP-Cebu City Chapter vice president Atty. Elaine Bathan had this to say:

 "Perhaps he woke up early for today’s hearing, took a sip of his morning coffee and read the daily paper. Perhaps he browsed through his case folder before heading for the palace of justice.

Meanwhile, a lady fiscal woke up this morning to report for work. A job she swore to fulfill before this country. As a doting mother and loving wife, perhaps a part of her wished she’d have a few more hours with her little ones or that if only she could stay at home with them instead.

Both lawyers went to court this morning not so much for themselves but for the cause of their clients and the oath they took upon entering the Bar. And who would have thought that it would be a fatal end for one and the other is now fighting for her life, all because they decided to do their jobs.

When lawyers accept a case for a client, the public knows so little of the risk they take. Sadly the public is more inclined to think about the monetary consequence of such professional engagement. Little do they know that more often, a lawyer spends so many hours in and outside the office thinking, analyzing, contemplating how best he/she could help them. But does this make them the enemy? They merely represent the litigant in court, argue before the magistrate and hope for a favorable judgment.

The law is an essential part of everyone’s lives and so are lawyers to the society. For one man scorned to bring the law into his own hands and see lawyers as enemies of society brings into view the fact that perhaps, people know little of the legal profession.

The legal profession is not just an ordinary profession. It does not stem from science or mathematical equation but one that roots itself from morality, justice, fairness and equality. The demands of the profession require not only expertise of the law but the passion to uphold and protect it. Its remuneration transcends any monetary value because these lawyers are not just representing the clients, they are officers of the courts, defenders of justice and at the end of the day, they too look forward to coming home to their families as ordinary persons. Sadly one brother can no longer do that and the other still continues to suffer all for the cause of this most noble profession."

The penultimate question that comes to mind is how did the gunman, John H. Pope, enter the Palace of Justice with his weapons? The security personnel simply stated that he was "security-checked". I doubt if that is true. What is true is that most foreigners are usually waved through to gain entry into most government buildings, bypassing security checks, while the locals are frisked for weapons, and their bags checked for contraband. 

A public building such as the Palace of Justice should be easy enough to secure, however, security clearly failed. A blunder which cost the lives of a brother in the profession and a client and left a prosecutor clinging for dear life at the hospital. 

The tragedy should never have happened had security properly checked people who come in and out of the Palace. In the aftermath of this tragedy, I am certain, the Palace of Justice will be more secure (until laziness and complacency creeps again). This is a sad wake up call for all of us. A sad day indeed.

1 comment:

  1. The lack of respect from the public probably stems from the fact that there are a lot of unscrupulous lawyers here in the Philippines. The wake up call is not only for our halls of justice to be more secure but it also screams for a much needed change in our judicial system.