A 67-year-old Canadian was killed yesterday after he went on a shooting rampage in the Palace of Justice in Cebu City, where he shot dead a doctor and a lawyer in a court room filled with litigants, then walked to another court room where he shot a female prosecutor past 8 a.m.
John Holdridge Pope, who was embittered by several criminal cases filed against him, aimed for the head when he fired a gun at his victims with an unlicensed .357 caliber revolver.
The bloodbath ended when two responding policeman shot Pope in the thigh and one arm, but the foreigner, a 15-year resident of Cebu City, shot himself in the temple before the law enforcers could get near.
All court hearings in the Palace were shut down for the day as Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez flew in from Manila and ordered tighter security measures in the building amid shock over this first-of-its kind violence to take place in the Cebu Palace of Justice.
The fatalities were identified as Dr. Rene Rafols, who had filed several complaints of malicious mischief and one for grave threats against Pope over a condominium homeowners dispute, and Rafols’ lawyer Juvian Achas, 59.
Assistant City Prosecutor Maria. Theresa Calibugan-Casiño, 40, who was hit in the head below her ear, was still fighting for her life at Chong Hua Hospital as of press time. She, too, was handling a criminal case for grave threats the Canadian had been fending off.
At the time of his death, Pope was facing an order of deportation by the Bureau of Immigration as an overstaying and “undesirable alien” because of his pending court cases which included illegal possession of a firearm.
Pope, who described himself as a “retired journalist”, had written a personal journal titled “Justice Denied”, detailing the progress of his cases, and what he alleged was alarming levels of corruption among prosecutors, the police and Bureau of Immigration based on his dealings with them.
“If there is any general lesson to be learned here, it has to be that violence begets violence,” wrote Pope in his journal, copies of which he sent to some media outlets.
“That if a person, be it Filipino or foreigner, is allowed to be harassed 250 times with the last 200 coming after it was common knowledge that the senior citizen had suffered a heart attack, without any help from neighbors, police or the courts, you should not be surprised to see an escalation of the problems as the dying person fights for justice.”
Police recovered a .357 caliber revolver with two live bullets near Pope’s body. They also found a .45 caliber pistol loaded with seven bullets in a sling bag he carried.
Pope lived alone in a row house in Siloy Street, Mountain View Estates in barangay Kalunasan, Cebu City where he moved six years ago after selling his unit in the Tuscania Condominium. He and the Rafols couple were neighbors in the condominium until they had a falling out over the discovery of fund anomalies by the property manager. Dr. Rene Rafols was then the president of the condominium homeowners association.
The complaint of grave threats stemmed from Pope’s visit last May 17, 2011 to the medical clinic of Rafols and his wife Dr. Elaine Rafols in the Borromeo Building in Capitol Site. Pope allegedly peered inside, frightening the female doctor who anticipated trouble because of tension over six complaints of malicious mischief they had previously filed against him.
Court Administrator Marquez was sent to Cebu by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to investigate yesterday’s shooting incident and “to immediately report to the members of the Court.”
Marquez ordered Cebu Regional Trial Executive Judge Silvestre Maamo to suspend proceedings in the Palace of Justice pending investigation.
He replaced the security guards on duty. Chief Supt. Marcelo Garbo Jr., regional police chief, is sending four policemen to reinforce security at the Palace of Justice starting today.
Pope was a frequent visitor in the building because he had to attend hearings and follow up his cases.
“He is known here. In fact there are reports that he was frisked.” But again, maybe there were lapses because he was able to bring in a gun,” said Maruqez.
The shooting took place just before the 8:30 schedule of Pope’s hearing in Branch 6 of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities on the fourth floor.
Rafols and his lawyer, Achas, were there by 8:20 a.m. to attend the hearing of the malicious mischief case. Pope walked casually inside, approached the two from behind and shot them at close range.
Pope then walked over to the MTCC Branch 1 in the same floor and peeped inside but found no one.
He met Prosecutor Casiño in the hallway heading for the court room, waited for her to pass him, then shot her in the back of the head.
Then he went downstairs to the ground floor reportedly looking for Cebu City Prosecutor Nicolas Sellon, assistant prosecutor Oscar Capacio, and assistant prosecutor Naruzen Lorete, all of whom handled his cases.
The three were not yet in their offices.
Regional State Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane said Pope may have held a grudge against those involved in the criminal cases against him.
He said some staff saw Pope was armed, and hid in the cubicles of the proseutors. One secretary, identified as Grace, said she didn’t notice any gun and even entertained Pope. The Canadian even warned her not to go outside because of the ongoing shooting.
Pope stepped out to the hall and was met by two police officers, who happened to be in the building attending to a case.
PO2 Celso Rivera Jr. of the Cebu City Anti-Drug Special Operations Task Force and PO1 Uriel Hagubit of the Regional Public Safety Battalion said they saw the foreigner brandishing a gun. They shot him in the leg and arm. Before they could approach Pope, the Canadian turned his gun to his temple and shot himself.
Pope was still alive when he was brought to the Cebu Doctor’s Hospital down the street where he died at 10:50 a.m.
Lawyer Eduardo Rosello was in the court room when the shooting started.
He said he went to approach retired Judge Jesus dela Peña, who was also attending a hearing, when he heard two gunshots. When he turned, he saw Rafols on the floor, face down. Achas managed to run toward him, bloodied and asking for help.
Rosello said he saw a “big Caucasian” running out of the courtroom. The wounded lawyer died in Rosello’s arms.
“I was holding him and helped him sit down but the blood gushed out from his neck like a waterfall.”
When he asked Achas if the Caucasian was the one that shot him, Achas in a trembling voice managed to reply “oo … oo … oo (yes … yes … yes).”
A bullet also hit the door of Judge Baring-Uy’s chamber. Four empty shells—two .38 caliber bullets and two .357 caliber bullets—were recovered from the MTCC Branch 6 and the hallway.
“This should be a lesson for all of us on how to handle peace and order. But it’s good this happened after the Sinulog on Sunday,” said Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, who went to the Palace
He wanted to know why Pope’s deportation order , dated Oct. 11, 2012 was not immediately enforced.
The mayor said Dr. Rafols came to him about two years ago to seek his help about Pope’s actuations when the two were neighbors at the Tuscania Condominium. The mayor said he referred the matter to the city police chief at the time Ramon Melvin Buenafe./with Doris Bongcac, Chito Aragon and Gabriel C. Bonjoc