Ellah Joy’s father fears for safety after being mobbed outside Palace of Justice
It could have been another violent encounter at the Cebu Palace of Justice.
The father of kidnap-slay victim 6-year-old Ellah Joy Pique was almost stabbed with a barbecue stick yesterday morning when he was accosted by supporters of the woman accused of killing his daughter.
Renante Pique had just finished attending a court hearing and was walking to his parked motorbike in the Capitol compound when 20 supporters of the accused Bella Ruby Santos rushed at him, including a man with a sharpened stick.
“Ako ang iyang target. Og wala pa ko nakabantay, naigo gyud ko sa akong luyo. (I was the target. If I hadn’t noticed him, I would have been hit in the back),” said Pique, who was with his wife Ligaya, mother and legal counsel.
Pique turned on the man, who was an arm’s length away, and shouted: “Suwayi kuno ko og dunggab. (Go ahead and try to stab me).” The man ran away.
Pique had the encounter recorded in the Fuente Osmena police blotter.
His lawyer Noemi Truya- Abarientos of the Children’s Legal Bureau said they would request for police security.
“After the John Pope incident, we can’t be complacent. We call upon authorities to intensify security inside and outside the Palace of Justice,” she said.
“We feel the need because supporters of Bella Ruby Santos are getting more aggressive in every hearing,” she told Cebu Daily News.
The commotion took place barely a week after Pope, a Canadian retiree shot and killed a Cebuano doctor and a lawyer inside Branch 6 of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities where they were supposed to attend an 8:30 a.m. hearing.
Pope’s two handguns, one in a bag, the other possibly hidden in a rolled up newspaper, were undetected by security guards.
Pope then walked to another court room and fired his gun at a lady prosecutor before responding policemen shot him. Pope fired a last bullet at his right temple, killing himself.
The bloodbath has spurred stricter security checks for those entering the Palace of Justice and raised questions about how Pope obtained unlicensed guns when a foreigner isn’t allowed to own one.
Yesterday long lines formed outside the Marcelo B. Fernan Palace of Justice from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. as guards inspected bags, frisked people, asked for ID cards and used handheld metal detetors.
The Jan. 22 shooting spree, a first of its kind in the Cebu courthouse complex, was the violent end of a three-year dispute between Pope and Dr. Reynold Rene Rafols, his ex-neighbor in the Tuscania Condominium in barangay Guadalupe.
Rafols, the homeowners association president, first drew the foreigner’s ire when he disallowed the bringing in of young local children into Pope’s condo unit late at night. Pope later moved out.
At the time of his death, Pope was due for deportation with six cases of malicious mischief, illegal gun possession and grave threats.
The case has called attention to the safety of litigants in the Palace of Justice and the need to intervene when adversaries get violent.
“There is a need to enfore cviliity,” said lawyer Abarientos.
“The case of Ellah Joy is now in court. There is no need to engage in a verbal battle. I was alarmed, she said.
The lawyer said she witnessed the verbal harassment by supporters of the accused Bella Ruby Santos when they were still in the hallway of the court room of Justice Ester Veloso.
“They did it in the presence of the guards in the Hall of Justice, and in my presence. I don’t know if the guards were just amused at the verbal exchange. They were just looking at the parties even after I told the guards to make both camps stop.”
She said there were three security guards and police trainees in the hallway. None of them made an effort to stop the commotion.
She said the supporters got mad after Pique, who was interviewed by news reporters after the hearing, said his family was seeking justice since his daughter was killed.
“Mr. Pique said during the interview that we get nothing if we delay the hearing because we are the ones who lost a child,” she said.
Both camps were still exchanging words as they left the Palace of Justice.
The verbal hostilities continued when Pique, his wife and mother went out of the building.
At that point, supporters of Santos, surrounded Pique.
“This is very alarming after the latest shooting incident here. I think our guards need to be trained. They were very busy inspecting bags but they don’t know how to pacify people,” Abarientos said.
Pique’s mother, at one point, told the mob “Maayo nalang gani na inyo kay naa ra sa prisohan. Ang amo, patay na.” (You’re better off than we are. Your friend is in prison. Our child is already dead. )
Pique and his family were confronted by about 20 angry people wearing white and blue T-shirts printed with the words “Bella and Ian Are Innocent”.
Pique said he recognized the man who tried to stab him with a large barbecue stick as one of those who attend court hearings of Santos case, but he doesn’t know his name.
Santos’ supporters are transported by mini-buses and jeepneys from Naga City to the Palace of Justice in Cebu City during hearings.
“Giatangan ko. Kasumbagon na gyud ko. Gamay na lang og kuwang. (They waited for me outside. I really wanted to punch them. It just needed a little more provocation.),” Pique said.
Pique went to Senior Supt. Patrocinio Comendador Jr., Cebu provincial police director, and reported the incident to Cebu Provincial Prosecutor Pepita Jane Petralba.
He said police assured they would provide security for him in future court hearings.
Pique said he’s aware parties have to be patient.
“Dili man gyud nato madali ang kaso. Maayo gani naay hearing ning kasoha matag buwan. (The court can’t resolve this case immediately. We should be grateful that this case is heard every month),” he said.
Abarrientos said she too didn’t feel safe, and waited a while before leaving the building.
“I was afraid about what might happen. If someone thought of doing something bad to me, I’d be helpless, ” she said.
The lawyer appealed to Santos’ supporters: “The case is already pending in court. Santos is represented by her lawyer. Let’s leave it to the court. We, who lost a child, even remain calm. We recognize their (Santos’ supporters) right to express their grievances but not to the extent of doing damage to others.”
SECOND DEATH ANNIVERSRAY
On Feb. 8, Pique’s family will mark the second death anniversary of Ellah Joy, whose naked body was found wrapped in a blanket and thrown off a cliff in Barili town, southwest Cebu.
The little girl was last seen walking home from school with friends, who said Ellah Joy accepted a ride in a Pajero by a woman and a male foreigner outside the Calaojan Elementary School in Minglanilla town.
She was killed by a blow to the head. Police suspect the girl was a target for child pornography but that she resisted.
After a false start with the arrest of a Norwegian national and his Cebuana girlfriend, police were forced to release the couple when their alibi held up that they were a Cebu City hotel when the crime took place based on hotel security video footage.
Investigators later filed charges against Santos, a Naga city resident and her British boyfriend Ian Charles Griffiths.
Santos stayed in hiding until she was arrested in a mall in Manila in October 2010 while Griffiths immediately returned to London after the kidnapping.
Santos, a former bar girl who wore low-cut dresses and spoke candidly about her impoverished past, remains in the Naga City Jail, hoping the court will allow her to post bail.
Santos and Griffiths face a charge of kidnaping with homicide, which draws a capital offense if they are convicted.
The bail hearing is wrapped up after the prosecution presented at least 10 witnesses.
Both parties were asked yesterday to submit their memorandum before the judge renders a decision.
A pre-trial conference was set for yesterday but was rescheduled to March 11 and April 1 at the prosecution’s request.
Defense lawyer Rameses Villagonzalo, in a separate interview, challenged Pique to file a case against the person who tried to stab him.
He said the Pique family looked desperate to create scenarios to save their case.
“For what reason will our camp stab Renante? Their case is already down. They just want to seek sympathy. They just wanted to delay the case,” he said. /Ador Vincent Mayol and Marian Z. Codilla
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