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Fearing for their safety, fiscals seek gun ban exemptions

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Do not kill us.”

Regional State Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane made this appeal to people who bear a grudge against state lawyers and other members of the legal profession following Tuesday’s shooting that killed a private lawyer and seriously injured a government prosecutor at Cebu’s Palace of Justice.

Gubalane, in an interview, said the incident caused fear among government prosecutors.

“We request aggrieved parties not to shoot us. If they have any complaint against us, they better resort to legal means instead of engaging in another problem,” he told reporters.

Canadian expatriate John Holdridge Pope on Tuesday fatally shot lawyer Juvian Achas and his client, Dr. Rene Rafols and seriously injured Assistant City Prosecutor Ma. Theresa Calibugan Casiño whom he shot in the head.

Pope, who claims to be a retired journalist, allegedly shot himself after he was cornered by policemen near the City Prosecutor’s Office.

“I don’t know if we are secure. The incident happened inside the workplace. It is but natural for us to be afraid,” Gubalane said.

He, however, admitted that risks are part of their job as prosecutors.

“We have to pray for our safety,” he said.

At least 10 prosecutors, including Gubalane, yesterday applied for gun ban exemptions to allow them to carry firearms before the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Aside from Gubalane, among those who applied for exemptions were: Cebu City Prosecutor Nicolas Sellon, Deputy City Prosecutor Oscar Capacio, and Assistant City Prosecutors Van Russel Inopiquez, Mario Edgardo Montenegro, Rogelio del Prado Jr., Simaco Labata, Noel Cellona, Ricky Jones Macabaya, and Liceria Lofranco-Rabillas.

Gubalane considered as “bare allegations” Pope’s claims that some prosecutors are corrupt.

“He (Pope) kept on complaining. But he was even the subject of complaints by his neighbors,” he said.

Tight security

Security at the Palace of Justice has been tightened.

Four policemen were detailed to assist security guards in the building. Security guards have also started using metal detectors in screening people who go inside the building.

Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez has ordered the relief of security guards Juanito Aguilar and Willy Purog who were on duty and were assigned on the entrance of the Palace of Justice when the incident happened.

A Mass was held inside the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 6 where Achas and Rafols were shot dead by Pope. Fr. Monico Catubig sprinkled holy water on the crime scene, from MTCC Branch 6 to MTCC Branch 1 down to the Cebu City Prosecutors’ Office. He was accompanied by Fr. Dominic Don, OSA, some judges, and court employees.

“We ask the Lord to cleanse this place so it would be restored to what it used to be. It is not the intention of God that people suffer and die. Sin and suffering came because of the envy of the devil,” Catubig said in an interview.

He prayed for Pope’s eternal repose and urged the people not to judge him.

“We don’t know what happened to him. There must have been causes (that led him to act that way). It may have something to do with his distant past or recent events. We don’t have any right to judge him,” the priest said.

Novena Masses for the souls of Rafols, Achas, and Pope started yesterday and will last for nine days at MTCC 6.

Court hearings at MTCC 6 today will resume today.


Lawyer Don Navarro, a former MTCC judge, condemned the incident as he called on judicial authorities to look on what triggered Pope to go on a rampage.

“It is sad to see the very thing courts were meant to prevent, which is the violent resolution of disputes, occur in the court itself, and with the loss of valuable lives.

“Beyond condemning the senselessness of the tragedy, we must look into whatever ails our legal system (that) fed the frustration of the perpetrator,” he told CDN.

Earl Bonachita, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City chapter, said they have yet to decide whether or not to call on authorities to allow lawyers to bear firearms. “Threats are imminent. But at the same time, if we arm everyone, we know there are heated arguments during trials. Maybe, they will use it. We’re on a quandary,” he said.

Bonachita believes that the Canadian didn’t understand the justice system in the country.

“The usual gripes of foreign nationals is they don’t understand our judicial system. In other places, trials are done in one day,” he said. “Maybe, he (Pope) was just too frustrated to the point that he no longer respected our laws.”

Psychological debriefing

MTCC Executive Judge Francisco Seville said they intend to subject court employees to psychological debriefing to help them cope with the trauma after witnessing the shooting.

He was dismayed with the security flaws at the Palace of Justice and called for a review of the building’s security measures .

“Dispensation of justice will be affected if the security of lawyers and litigants will be jeopardized. In a way, I’m dismayed with the security policies being implemented at the Palace of Justice,” said Seville whose courtroom is located just across Branch 6 where Pope shot two of the victims.

Forensic findings

Police forensic experts confirmed initial findings that both Achas and Rafols were shot at close range.

“There’s a presence of smudging which is the blackening. This is noted on the periphery of the entrace wound,” said Police Senior Supt. Nestor Sator, regional chief of the PNP Crime Laboratory.

He said Rafols was shot in “contact fire”, while Achas was shot in “near fire.”

“Dikit gyud ang pagpusil,” said Sator explaining that Rafols perhaps was not able to look back when the gun was fired.

Sator explained that “smudging is the blackening of the result of the accumulation of smoke, which prevented its spread to other areas.” He said the bullet that entered the back of Rafol’s left ear exited on the right side of his face. Sator said Rafol’s died instantly and wasn’t able to feel the pain.

Achas meanwhile was hit on the right cheek with the bullet exiting from his left neck, said Sator. “There is a tattoing. Specks of powder burns which will indicate a near fire,” he added.

Task force

The Central Visayas police has created a task force to carry out the investigation of Tuesday’s shooting.

The task force, to be headed by Senior Supt. Orlando Ualat, Deputy Regional Director for Operation, will find out where Pope acquired his guns.

A police source said Pope’s guns looked like the improvised ones that were manufactured in Danao City.

Senior Supt. Mariano Natuel Jr., acting chief of police of Cebu City, said the task force will look for the source of the gun who will most likely face charges.

Pope body remain at Cebu Doctor’s Hospital and has not been subjected to an autopsy yet.

Initial examination on the gunman’s body indicate that there is smudging on his wound in the right temple that indicates he was shot at close range.

The service pistols of PO1 Oriel Hagupit and PO3 Celso Rivera Jr. have been turned over to the Homicide Section of the Cebu City Police Office and will be handed over to the crime laboratory for ballistics testing.

The two policemen who responded to the shooting incident were likewise subjected to paraffin tests to determine if they fired a gun./with Chito Aragon and Tweeny Malinao

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Tags: Gun ban , John Pope , Palace of Justice , Regional State Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane , Shooting

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