Grief and gratitude.
Anger and a call to honor his wish for peace.
Indignation over the “Hall of Injustice” where he was killed.
A challenge to make “change” happen.
A mixture of emotions spilled out in Friday evening’s memorial service for Dr. Reynold Rene Rafols, who was shot dead along with his lawyer Jubian Achas, in a courtroom bloodbath in Cebu’s Palace of Justice that left many groping for a way forward from the violence.
Those who knew Rafols best – his family, Cebu’s top surgeons, golfing buddies and several lawyers – said the 57-year-old pediatric surgeon was a soft-hearted, jovial man who went out of his way to handle charity cases of sick children who couldn’t afford to pay for an operation.
Every Wednesday, he held clinic in the government-run Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center to attend to indigent patients.
Since he loved golf, Rafols set up a foundation eight years ago with lawyer and doctor friends to raise funds through their golf tournaments to pay bills for MRI and CT scans needed by child charity cases.
It was a “senseless murder”, said Dr. Rudy Amatong, his close friend of over 30 years.
Amatong said the surgeon, would still be alive today helping more children “if not for the lapses of all our authorities.”
Rafols, who will be laid to rest today at the Angelicum Garden of Angels in Mandaue City, is survived by his wife Elaine, a pediatrician, and two daughters in their 20s, Isabella and Margarita.
CALL FOR CHANGE
In Friday’s memorial service, younger daughter Margarita made a tearful plea that “there will be change” so that no family would suffer this kind of violence again.
“I hope that when you go home tonight, please think about what good can come out of this situation,” said the young woman.
At the vigil wake in the St. Peter’s Funeral Home in Cebu City, two coffins were laid side by side, one for the doctor and the lawyer, Achas, who is a cousin of the doctor’s wife.
According to fellow doctors and lawyers, Rene Rafols and his wife Elaine were harassed for the past three years by the gunman, an angry ex-neighbor.
Canadian retiree John Pope, who was facing deportation, shot himself in the head, after gunning down Rafols, his lawyer and a lady prosecutor using a gun he had slipped into the government building last week.
The Jan. 22 shooting was set off by a series of events that started with neighbors’ complaints that Pope, who lived alone, would bring in local children to his unit at night in the Tuscania Condominium. Rafols, the homeowners association president at the time, put his foot down and had security guards disallow their entry.
After that, incidents of rock throwing at Rafols’ house led to the filing of cases of malicious mischief, and later a stalking incident with Pope spotted outside the Rafols’ clinic carrying a gun. The foreigner sold his unit and moved to a row house in barangay Kalunasan.
“Many people offered to solve his problem by eliminating this troublesome foreigner,” said Dr. Shawn Espina, a fellow surgeon in his eulogy.
But Rafols was a “good and decent man” and insisted on taking the legal route, he said.(Read Dr. Espina’s complete testimonial in Opinion page 10)
“I promised myself that I would do something to keep this from ever happening again. This is the second time a doctor has been killed. Dr. Jane Chua was his classmate,” said Espina.
“He used to say that maybe he would end up like Jane. Surely by now we are able to recognize the crazy ones among our patients or neighbors. Many of them are foreigners.”
Espina was referring to the February 2006 attack where Chua, an internist, was shot dead in her clinic by an overstaying Dutch national who then killed himself with an unlicensed .38 caliber pistol. The man, who had previously gone to her for a consultation, was believed to be mentally imbalanced, according to the police.
Espina appealed for friends of the slain Rafols and his lawyer “to see Rene’s dreams and aspirations through” in order that their deaths “would not be in vain.” and as part of “the challenge of finding out God’s reasons for our drastic loss.”
“For us, the Dr. Rene Rafols Memorial Women’s and Children’s Center is as good as done,” he said, with an appeal to nuns of the Perpetual Succour Hospital to support it.
He also challenged the Mandaue Lawyers Association (Manlaw) to help work towards stricter screening rules of foreigners applying with the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) to live in the country.
“Only when we have proven John Pope wrong would they (the victims) be avenged. Violence does not beget violence, it should beget patience and understanding. That is what Rene wanted.”
Espina was referring to a statement of Pope in his draft book “Justice Denied” where the Canadian, who described his frustrations with local police, prosecutors, the Bureau of Immigration, and building resentment for Rafols, said: If there is any general lesson to be learned, it has to be that violence begets violence.”
Rafols was founder of the Medico-Legal Golf Foundation, which raised funds for child patients to get costly MRI and CT scans required for surgery in the government-run VSMMC.
In Friday’s wake, lawyer Tito Pintor showed a video of over a dozen children from the Visayas and Mindano who had come to their office to avail of assistance. Pinto later said they would rename the foundation after Rafols.
Lawyer Mat Jo also explained that it was because of his personal concern for “poor, helpless children” that the doctor intervened in Pope’s residency in the condominium and ended up killed. (See story on page 2).
Rafols was not just a private doctor who did welfare cases on the side. He was sought after as one of only five pediatric surgeons in Cebu to operate on babies and children.
“He used his hands to save lives,” said Dr. Vidal Redulla, a pediatrician.
“His death left a big void in the medical community in Cebu,” he said because Rafols was also a teaching surgeon, who trained several batches of surgeons now doing working in different parts of the country.
Redulla confirmed that “many advised Rafols to hire someone” to stop the Canadian from bothering him, but that Rafols, in one conversation, told him he would “not take the easy way out”.
“Our job is to save lives… I will do what his right,” the slain doctor was quoted as saying.
“He trusted in our courts and the agencies of government in spite of the difficult hurdles he had to go through,” said Redulla.
“Rene chose the noble path of peace, the righteous path and that is the way he wants us to take.”
The doctor’s widow Elaine, was calm, and full of gratitude as she spoke at the end of the memorial service.
She said the family was comforted by the presence of friends and colleagues, especially young residents Rafols had trained.
“He dedicated his life to his patients. As far as I know he was the only consultant who did actual clinic in Vicente Sotto every Wednesday and would ask residents to gather all the difficult cases for review and schedule them for surgery. He always found time to give service to those who couldn’t afford it.”
“He could never say no,” she recalled.
“Those who couldn’t afford to pay his PF (professional fee), thank you for enriching our lives.”
Rafols graduated from the Cebu Institute of Medicine in 1979, and was a resident in Cebu Velez General Hospital in the department of general surgery in 1985.
He did his residency for pediatrics surgery in the Philippine Children’s Medical Center in Manila in 1987. He came home to Cebu and opened his private practice a year after. Eileen G. Mangubat