WHEN Assistant Cebu City Prosecutor Maria Theresa Casiño joined the solemn procession in honor of the Holy Child last Saturday, she said she arrived at an important decision.

“After I saw the image of Sto. Niño, I felt I have forgiven him,” she said in a phone interview. “This is my gift to God.”

Casiño is referring to the late Canadian national John Pope, who shot her outside the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 1 on Jan. 22 last year. She returned to work three months later.

The retired journalist also shot to death Dr. Reynold Rafols, a pediatric surgeon, and the doctor’s lawyer, Jubian Achas, while they waited for a hearing inside the MTCC Branch 6.

Pope was cornered by two police officers, who crippled him. The foreigner then turned the gun on himself.

A mass commemorating the incident was held inside the tent of MTCC Branch 6 yesterday afternoon.

“Wherever he (Pope) is right now, I hope and pray that he finds peace,” said Casiño, who entered the service in March 2010.

The prosecutor had a hard time forgiving Pope because she finds it ironic to forgive a person who is not asking for forgiveness.

But Casiño said she eventually learned how to let go of the past.

“It is difficult to carry a burden,” she said.

Pope shot her in the head. The slug was removed by doctors on Feb. 5 last year.

Casiño said the unity and support of her family strengthened her. Her time spent in the hospital was also a bonding moment with her husband and two children, now aged five and three.

“I see (the incident) in a positive light,” she said. “I grow more in Christ.”

Casiño said she already knew her job is risky. But she never thought that she would be shot and experience a near-death situation.

Looking back, she realized that Pope was showing “little signs” of resentment and anger against her. Casiño and Achas handled the grave threats case against the foreigner heard before MTCC Branch 1.

“I really took it for granted,” she said. “I was just doing my job to the best of my ability.”

She remembered Pope was told by the judge to call his lawyer, but he looked at her.

“He looked at me and said, ‘If she can prove her case, let her do it,’” she said.

Casiño said she even explained to Pope the judicial process in the Philippines, but the latter “seemed not to understand or refused to understand.”

The shooting spree happened inside the Palace of Justice, which she said was supposed

to be secured. The building was declared unsafe for occupancy by the Office of the Building Official after the magnitude 7.2 earthquake last Oct. 15.

After the quake, most of the courts put up tents outside the Palace of Justice. The Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office also accepts complaints inside a tent on the grounds of the legislative building.

Casiño said she is concerned about their safety now that they are very open to the public.

The Supreme Court’s Office of the Court Administrator has decided the transfer of courts to a building in the north reclamation area. But most of the judges resented after they saw cracks in the edifice.

Casiño, who handled inquest proceedings yesterday, said there are roving security guards and police officers in the compound.

“I hope the police officers who escorted suspects during the filing of complaints would also guard us,” she said.

She is still undergoing therapy and her vision in the left eye is not quite clear.

Casiño finished her law degree at Divine World University in Tacloban City in 1995. She took the bar examinations in 2003.

Before she entered in the prosecution service, she worked at the Department of Labor and Employment.

She said she dreamed of becoming a prosecutor and she will not leave her job for a safer one.

“I was inspired by my very desire to see justice unfold before my eyes,” she said. “I embrace the risks.”