THE headline to the story in SunStar’s Page 2 of Sept. 4 sounded odd at first reading: “Police looking for de la Cerna.”
The day before, this banner headline for the paper’s top story: “Bullet Dodger: Lawyer survives ambush.”
Lawyer Inocencio de la Cerna Jr. was the target and victim who had escaped death in the hands of armed murderers. They ambushed him in the car he was driving Monday (Sept. 2) through the gate of Cebu City’s “Hall of Justice” at Qimonada I.T. Center at north reclamation area. At a stoplight junction as he fled, he went out of the car and fired back, sending away the would-be killers.
Police should be looking for his attackers, not the person they fired at and would’ve killed the lawyer except that they fired at least 11 shots at him and de la Cerna was unbelievably lucky.
One needed to read the first two paragraphs of the news to find out why police were looking for the lawyer: De la Cerna had to answer more questions to help identify the shooters. And he had “hurriedly left” after the shooting and could no longer be reached.
It is not only killers who would flee after an assassination attempt. The victim who just had a close brush with death would hide too. The trauma would have a sort of after-shocks; the fear during the assault would come back rushing to overwhelm the victim. That’s at least what psychologists say in books and films.
Surviving one incident in these dangerous times wouldn’t assure safety forever. Some targets who were not eliminated in the first attempt were hounded until they were killed or just disappeared from this face of the earth.
De la Cerna might want to assess and plan how to respond to the crisis, particularly his safety and that of his family.
A stark example of uncertainty and fear of the survivor in such public, very open armed assaults is the case of retired police general Vicente Loot, who when he was still mayor of Daanbantayan, Cebu, on May 13, 2018, was fired at by gunmen at the town’s port. He and his family escaped death but four other people – two drivers, his grandchildren’s nanny, and a porter – were injured.
Since then, Loot clearly no longer led a normal life. He had skipped reporting to the town hall until the elections when he no longer ran for public office. He hasn’t been seen in public since then.
His fate is that of a fugitive, not a fugitive of law since a person wanted by the law could surrender to the judicial process. Loot is not charged before prosecutors or the court. A presidential curse on him and his alleged drug trafficking apparently inflicts more fear and doubt than a court warrant.
Who’s the enemy?
De la Cerna’s plight is different from Loot’s, who was repeatedly named by the president as drug coddler and merchant.
The lawyer handles high-profile and controversial cases but he is not publicly linked to illegal drugs: what people read about was (a) his “brief” lawyering for former Medellin, Cebu mayor Ricardo Ramirez who was tagged a drug personality by the police and killed by unidentified men (more than 40!) in a Bogo-Medellin hospital where he was detained by police, and (b) defending two cops who were tagged drug protectors.
De la Cerna has been identified with state forces too. He helped CIDG in prosecuting its cases; at one time held office in the police investigation and detection group’s headquarters. And he defended the Highway Patrol Group and its men on charges of murdering lawyer Noel Archival and two others in a highway ambush in Dalaguete, Cebu.
There are also other cases such as the Boniel murder in Bohol and the P3.5 billion stocks swindling charge where he could’ve have angered some people.
Who wanted de la Cerna silenced forever as a lawyer?
With the colorful life of many lawyer victims in Cebu--notably Noel Archival and Mary Ann Castro–-police investigators have an abundant supply of theories to poke into. And in cases of persons linked to illegal drugs, police intervention, as dramatized by former mayor Tomas Osmeña’s allegation during his term, is in the list of probable motives.
Which focuses on the dilemma of the target of assassination these days: A victim or target wouldn’t know where the attack would come from and where to seek protection and refuge.
This must distress the police too: A situation where victims of armed assault do not want, or are reluctant, to talk about who would do them harm.