Longtime grudge behind courthouse shooting, say neighbors
CEBU CITY, Philippines–A lingering neighborhood dispute, sources and local authorities said, was the root of the shooting death of two persons and the wounding of another after a 67-year-old Canadian man opened fire inside a courtroom before killing himself at the Palace of Justice in Cebu City Tuesday morning.
Minutes before court session could start at the Municipal Trial Court in Cities Branch 6, John Pope pulled a gun and shot a physician and his lawyer inside the courtroom filled with lawyers and litigants on the fourth floor of the Palace of Justice at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
As he was heading down the building, Pope, a retired journalist, met a female assistant city prosecutor and shot her in the head.
Pope went to the city prosecutor’s office on the ground floor to look for three more prosecutors but they were not in their offices at that time.
As he went out of the Palace of Justice, Pope was shot by policemen in the legs. Before he could be taken in, Pope shot himself in the head.
Dr. Rene Rafols, who had filed several complaints against Pope following a neighborhood dispute, and his lawyer Juvian Achas, 59, succumbed to their injuries.
Assistant city prosecutor Maria Theresa Casiño, 40, who was hit in the head below her ear, was fighting for her life in the hospital. Casiño was the prosecutor assigned in MTCC Branch 1 where Pope had a pending case.
Pope died a few minutes at a private hospital, where he was brought.
A check with the Bureau of Immigration in Cebu showed that Pope was a retiree visa holder and had been a resident of Cebu City for 14 years.
Sources, who requested anonymity, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Rafols and Pope had been at odds since they were neighbors in Barangay (village) Guadalupe, Cebu City.
A former neighbor, who asked not to be named, said that sometime in mid-2000, Pope owned a condominium unit at Residenza Tuscania while Rafols lived in a townhouse inside the same residential compound.
A source told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Rafols was association president when Pope approached Rafols to complain about “something so crazy, so miniscule.”
But Pope reportedly got mad when Rafols didn’t act on his complaint. During an association meeting, Pope complained that someone would knock on his door but when he opened it, no one was there.
The source said Pope had told the association that he suspected Rafols was the one annoying him.
To appease the foreigner, the association posted a guard outside his unit but Pope still complained that the knocking continued.
Another source claimed that Pope would throw stones at the townhouse of Rafols, who maintained he never knocked on Canadian’s door.
Barangay (village) Captain Michael Gacasan of Guadalupe said Rafols filed several complaints against Pope.
“They met at least three times in the barangay hall but their dispute was never settled. So the barangay issued a certification to file action,” he told Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The complaints were filed before the two branches of MTCC.
A friend of Rafols said the physician told her husband that Pope continued to harass him and had even pointed a gun at him inside his clinic.
She said the association filed a complaint before the Canadian Consulate Office in Cebu but was told that personal dispute was best left to authorities.
When reached by phone, Canadian Consul Robert Lee declined to comment on instructions of the Canadian Embassy based in Manila.
Rafols filed a string of cases against Pope–malicious mischief in MTCC branch 6, unjust vexation in MTCC branch 4, grave threats in MTCC branch 1 and qualified trespassing to dwelling in MTCC branch 3.
It was learned that Pope had a pending case of violence against women and children before the Regional Trial Court reportedly filed by the Canadian’s former live-in partner. Pope was out on bail.
A case of illegal possession of firearms had been dismissed.
At about 8:20 a.m. Tuesday, Rafols and his lawyer, Achas, were at the MTCC Branch 6 to attend the hearing of the malicious mischief case.
Lawyer Eduardo Rosello said that while waiting for Judge Pamela Baring-Uy to emerge from her chambers and start the morning hearings, he saw Achas and Rafols inside the courtroom.
He said he greeted Achas, who introduced Rafols to him. They even engaged in small talk.
At that time, Pope walked casually inside the courtroom and then went directly behind the victims and shot them at close range.
Rosello said he went to approach another fellow lawyer 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.
He then saw a “big Caucasian” running out of the courtroom.
Rosello said he held Achas and helped him to sit down but the blood oozed out from his neck “like waterfalls.”
Rosello said Achas wanted to talk but he could no loner understand what the shooting victim was saying.
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).”
After few seconds, Achas died in the arms of Rosello.
Rosello said he kept on shouting to call for the police and ambulance but he heard another gunshot. When he peered from the window, he saw a woman was being carried and presumed it was Casiño.
Rosello said he realized that he was the only one left in the courtroom because everyone ran inside the office of the clerk of court.
A bullet also hit the door of Judge Baring-Uy’s chamber. The judge later went out and screamed when she saw the carnage.
Regional State Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane said Pope could be mad at those who filed a case against him for creating trouble in the neighborhood.
Gubalane said Casiño was the assigned fiscal in MTCC branch 1 where Pope had a pending case.
The police said that after shooting Rafols and Achas, Pope peeped inside MTCC branch 1 but no one was around. He however met in the hallway Casiño, who was heading to MTCC Branch 1.
A cleaner greeted the fiscal. Then Pope shot her in the back of her head.
Gubalane said the suspect then went down to the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office, located at the ground of the Palace of Justice building.
Pope went to look for Cebu City prosecutor Nicolas Sellon, approving officer of the cases to be filed in court, assistant prosecutor Oscar Capacio, who was the reviewing fiscal and assistant prosecutor Naruzen Lorete, who also handled another case against Pope.
Gubalane said Pope also filed cases against Capacio before.
Fortunately, the three fiscals were not around. Sellon and Capacio had yet to arrive while Lorete was already in a hearing.
Gubalane said that some of the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office personnel saw that Pope was armed, so they hid inside the cubicles of the fiscals.
But the secretary of Assistant Prosecutor Aida Sanchez identified only as Grace didn’t notice the firearm and entertained Pope who even warned her not to go outside because of the ongoing shooting.
Pope went out of the building and met PO2 Celso Rivera Jr. of the Cebu City Anti-drug special operations task force and PO1 Uriel Hagubit of the Regional Public Safety Battalion, who were on their way to attend court hearings.
When they saw the Canadian brandishing a gun, they shot him in the legs. But before they could approach the Canadian, he shot himself in the head.
Pope died at 10:50 a.m. at the Cebu Doctor’s Hospital, about 100 meters away from the Palace of Justice.
Recovered from Pope was the suspect’s .357 cal. revolver with two remaining live bullets. The police found another .45 cal. pistol loaded with seven bullets inside his sling bag.
Four empty shells–two from .38 cal. bullets and two from .357 cal. bullets–were recovered from the MTCC Branch 6 and the hallway. A .357 cal. gun can be loaded with .38 bullets.
In the wake of the shooting, judges aired the need to review the security measures being implemented at the Palace of Justice.
Judges wanted to know how the Canadian was able to sneak a gun inside the Palace of Justice.
The security guard, Juanito Aguilar of the Eagle Matrix Security Agency claimed he frisked Pope when he entered the compound shortly after 8 a.m.
Upon the order of the Supreme Court, Cebu City RTC Executive Judge Silvestre Maamo issued memorandum to suspend all the hearings Wednesday. With a report from Ador Mayol, Inquirer Visayas