Court security made tougher-A A +A
Thursday, January 24, 2013
CEBU CITY - Metal detectors and other security measures were in place Wednesday in Cebu’s largest courthouse, as well as in the prosecutors’ offices in the cities of Lapu-Lapu and Talisay.
These precautions are in response to the fatal shooting last Tuesday of a doctor, his lawyer and a prosecutor by a Canadian national, who was also killed in the incident.
As of Wednesday, however, investigators from the police and the courts still could not say how John Pope, 66, brought two handguns inside the Chief Justice Fernan Palace of Justice last Tuesday morning.
At least 10 prosecutors who work in that building have asked the Commission on Elections to exempt them from a gun ban that is in effect until June this year and to let them carry firearms.
“Normal man gyud na mahadlok ta,” Regional State Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane told reporters on Wednesday. “Sa working place naa man gyoy mahitabo nga ingon ani di ba? How much more seguro sa gawas? (If something like this can happen in our, it can probably happen outside),” he said.
Gubalane asked anyone who is aggrieved by any court personnel not to resort to violence, but to file cases against them instead.
He also learned from Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who called him on Tuesday, that she intends to give financial help to Assistant City Prosecutor Maria Theresa Casiño, who remained in the hospital.
Hearings resumed Wednesday, except in the fourth-floor courtroom where Pope first shot Dr. Reynold Rafols and Atty. Jubian Achas, the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 1, before he went in search of Casiño.
Employees attended mass inside that sala, which no longer had any of the bloodstains that marked it last Tuesday.
Court interpreter Rioje Alcalde was the first employee to enter the courtroom around 8:15 a.m. before the shooting occurred.
He recalled that Pope shot Dr. Rafols, before aiming his gun at his second target, Atty. Achas.
At that time, only about 15 litigants, including five lawyers, sat inside the courtroom. They scampered for cover once the shooting began.
For a few seconds, Alcalde said, he was speechless. But then he immediately asked for help from security guards and the police.
One of the two uniformed security guards at the building’s entrance also inspected persons with a handheld metal detector starting Wednesday.
Two uniformed police officers were stationed near the two guards and helped frisk those who had business inside.
At the back door, two policemen were also detailed with two other security guards, and more guards were assigned to different courtrooms.
Also on Wednesday, the Judicial Security Group (JSG) submitted its report on the incident.
But Judge Macaundas Hadjirasul, JSG chairperson, declined to discuss the report, particularly how Pope had managed to sneak the guns (one .45 pistol and one .357 revolver) inside.
In an interview, Judge Hadjirasul said they would wait for the police force’s official report on the incident, then send their security recommendations to the Supreme Court.
Hearings in MTCC Branch 6 were still suspended.
Judge Pamela Baring-Uy, who was in her chambers during last Tuesday morning’s attack, joined the employees during mass.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City chapter president, Earl Bonachita, said most lawyers were stunned by what happened.
“It sends a message that a lawyer can be attacked anytime,” he said.
He observed that foreign nationals usually complain about how long it takes for their cases in the Philippines to get resolved.
For their protection, several prosecutors submitted Wednesday the requirements sought by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), so they can be exempted from the gun ban.
According to a Comelec resolution, the prosecutors are among the government employees who are allowed to carry or transport firearms during the election period, from January 13 to June 2013, as long as they secure Comelec’s permission.
The Supreme Court (SC) has also ordered the Office of the Court Administrator to investigate the shooting.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno directed Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez to “immediately report to the members of the court,” according to a statement posted on the SC’s website.
Five security guards of Eagle Matrix Security Agency Inc. were also suspended after last Tuesday’s attack.
The Quezon City-based agency is under investigation, said Superintendent Marvin Sanchez, head of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas unit that supervises security agencies and guards.
The agency, which secures all the courtrooms in the Philippines, will submit an incident report today, Thursday.
“We will check it together with the police investigation to look for lapses,” Sanchez said.
In a separate interview, Romeo Jamaybay, one of the security officers from the agency, said there are 12 guards detailed in the courthouse.
He said some of the agency’s officials will arrive in Cebu soon to check and make recommendations. He declined to say anything further.
Members of the prosecution service assigned in Talisay City condemned the fatal shooting.
Talisay City Prosecutor Marshall Rubia also said he and City Police chief Supt. Elmer Lim came up with a more comprehensive security plan for the Talisay City Hall of Justice.
Rubia has also requested the Talisay City Government to provide metal detectors for their office.
In Lapu-Lapu City, officials in the Hall of Justice beefed up security following the attack.
Mayor Paz Radaza said she will coordinate with the judges, prosecutors and the police to improve security measures in the courthouse and at City Hall.
These will include using metal detectors and installing security cameras.
“We always had that plan to put up CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras but it was overshadowed by other important concerns,” Radaza said in her regular news conference Wednesday.
The City Hall is located a few meters from the Hall of Justice. Lapu-Lapu City Police Office Chief Rey Lyndon Lawas said he directed the police operations chief to secure the Hall of Justice at 9 a.m. last Tuesday, after news of the shooting in Cebu City broke out.
“We are now implementing stricter controls and regulating the flow of individuals coming in and out of the building,” Lawas said.
The Hall of Justice has separate security personnel, but Lawas said the police are willing to assign additional operatives in the building. (KAL/DSM/GMD/JKV/RSB/Sun.Star Cebu)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 25, 2013.