CEBU, Philippines — Prominent Cebuano lawyer Inocencio dela Cerna cheated death after he survived at least 11 bullets that could have killed him instantaneously. With a gun of his own, he chose to face his attackers head on and drove them away successfully.
Dela Cerna was boarding his vehicle parked outside the Qimonda Building at the North Reclamation Area, which houses the courts in Cebu City, when a man opened fire at him at around 9 a.m. yesterday.
“Si Atty. Dela Cerna, gikan to siya diri sa sulod. Paggawas, naay gunman nga ni-aksyon og duol sa iyang sakyanan… pag tulo ka buto diri sa gawas, ni-hapa na lang pud mi (Atty. Dela Cerna came from the building. When he was outside, the gunman approached his vehicle… when we heard three gunshots, we dropped to the ground),” narrated a security guard at Qimonda who refused to be identified.
A policeman who was in the area tried to intervene but the gunman also fired shots at him and the security guards.
“Kami pud atong time-ma, nidagan nalang pud mi kay gitutokan man pud mi’g armas… kay wala man pud mi armas, wala mi ikasukol so, mao to, nanagan nalang mi (At that time, we did not have any choice but run because the gunman also aimed his firearm at us. We could not do anything because we don’t have guns, so we ran),” the security guard added.
At this point, Dela Cerna boarded his vehicle and drove out of the Qimonda compound fast but the gunman reportedly chased him on board a motorcycle with the help of an accomplice.
Senior Insp. Adolfo Brigana, Jr. of the port police who responded to the incident said the gunman fired at Dela Cerna several times on the road until the lawyer fired back when he reached S. Osmeña Boulevard near Pier 3. This stopped the suspects’ pursuit.
“Wala man sya nataranta, sirit siya, ni-diretso siya sa nearest police station (He didn’t panic, he drove away fast towards the nearest police station),” Brigana said of Dela Cerna.
“Gigukod pa sya abot sa eskina sa may dapit sa Robinsons… gibirahan pud sya pag- abot dira sa may Roble Shipping na office, pero allegedly nakabalos man siya mao nang murag na- discouraged ang nigukod niya (The suspects chased him up to the corner at Robinsons… they also fired at him near the Robles Shipping office, but Dela Cerna fired back so that might have discouraged the suspects),” Brigana said.
Brigana said it was very likely that the suspects waited for Dela Cerna to come out of Qimonda Building.
Dela Cerna drove straight to the Waterfront Police Station at Pier 1.
There, he narrated his version of the incident.
“Nidagan ko kay akong pusil naa man sa akong bag, nidagan ko sige kog kuha. So sige silag tira padung didto. Paghuman nilag tira, nakapabuto naman ko so ni-stop light naman gud so wala nakoy mabuhat ani nya… it’s either them or me, ninaog ko, nag atubangay nalang mi. Pagkita nila na nga nagdala kog pusil, nituyok balik, niatras sila (I drove away because my gun was in my bag… I was driving while trying to get my gun out while they were firing at me… When we reached a stop light, it was either them or me so I went out of my car to face them head on… When they saw that I had a gun, they drove away),” Dela Cerna said in a statement.
Master Sergeant Ruth Violango of the Waterfront Police Station said Dela Cerna had wounds, most likely from the shards of glass from his car window, which was hit by the shots.
Dela Cerna reportedly refused to be brought to the hospital.
Dela Cerna has been handling several high-profile cases, the latest of which is the parricide case against Niño Rey Boniel, the husband of former Bien Unido Mayor Gisela Boniel who was killed and dumped in the sea in 2017. Her body has not been found since.
He was also the lawyer of the Highway Patrol Group personnel accused of killing Attorney Noel Archival in February 2014.
Yesterday’s foiled ambush came over a year since lawyer and former Ronda vice mayor Jonnah John Ungab was killed in broad daylight also at the Qimonda compound after appearing at the promulgation of a case on February 2, 2018 against his high-profile client, Roland “Kerwin” Espinosa, a self-confessed drug lord.
Several months after that, former prosecutor and criminal lawyer Salvador Solima was killed inside his house at Singson Compound in Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City on July 2, 2018.
National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)-7 Assistant Regional Director Dominador Cimafranca said the bureau will open an investigation into the incident.
At City Hall, Mayor Edgardo Labella directed the Cebu City Police Office to arrest the assailants.
“We’ve known each other as practicing lawyers. He’s a very good lawyer. When you are engaged in the private practice of law, there are two sides of the coin –one will be happy with you and the opposing part would not be happy,” Labella said.
“There should be no stones left unturned to arrest the assailant. If this is done to a lawyer, how much more to the civilians?” he added.
He said he will direct the police to deploy cops to the Qimonda compound.
“I will urge Director Vinluan (CCPO Director Gemma Vinluan) to put some PNP elements within the vicinity considering that court rooms are somewhat very divisive, heated arguments or adversarial, there should be policemen for police visibility. At least if there are someone who will commit, deterred if there are PNP members,” the mayor said.
He described the incident as an isolated case and assured that Cebu City is still safe.
Shortly after the incident yesterday, the city and provincial chapters of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Cebu condemned the attempted ambush of Dela Cerna.
In a statement, the IBP-Cebu City Chapter said the latest violence adds to the list of numerous unsolved cases of killings and attempted killings in Cebu and in the whole country perpetrated by motorcycle-riding assassins who remain unidentified.
“This latest attack directed to a lawyer in the person of Atty. Dela Cerna, is not only an attack against the life of an officer of the court, but is also an assault to the rule of law and to the sensibilities of peace-loving Cebuanos,” the statement read.
They also called on the police to solve the case swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice.
The group added that it joins in solidarity with the community in denouncing violence and impunity, as it reaffirmed its pledge to fulfill its role as vanguards of the rule of law and justice in society, despite the dangers.
In a separate statement, the IBP-Cebu Province Chapter said: “We call upon our Police Force to ensure the safety of our legal practitioners in our locality. We demand the speedy investigation of this horrible act and we shall continue to entrust that the rule of law be upheld at all times.”
Executive Justice Edgardo delos Santos of the Court of Appeals-Cebu Station, echoed the condemnation and said he is saddened that the killings of lawyers, not only in Cebu but also in Negros Oriental, has reached an alarming stage in recent years.
“What made it worse is that we have not heard that a single one has been solved,” Delos Santos told The Freeman. (FREEMAN)