Use more science to investigate murders, forensic scientist tells PH government
BUKIDNON, Philippines – The country’s top medical examiner has called on the government to integrate forensic science into all murder investigations that have taken place in the country, saying it will be an antidote to impunity.
Dr. Raquel Fortun, a professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and chair of its pathology department, said in an online press conference Friday, March 11 that the lack of a thorough investigation, including the forensic science, would result in the absence of accountability in law enforcement and military operations.
Fortun said this four days after autopsiing the body of Lumad rights activist Chad Booc, who the army says was killed in an encounter between New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and soldiers. in New Bataan, Davao de Oro, at the end of February.
“Hindi pwedeng kung ano lang yung sinabi, ‘yun na yun (It is not enough to say that this is what happened, and then that is all). The Human Rights Commission should step in and look into these killings in New Bataan,” she said.
In Booc’s case, Fortun said the injuries show there was an intent to kill the activist.
In his initial findings, Fortun said Booc was riddled with bullets, but his head, neck, left arm and legs were intact.
“I’m still analyzing this. I don’t know if I can commit to a number because of the complexity of the plans. It means that they are multiple. There are many. They are close together others, especially the chest and abdomen shots,” Fortun said.
She said the x-ray also showed there was a bullet lodged in Booc’s left chest wall which Fortun had removed. She left bullet fragments intact as they were difficult to remove.
“What these bullets say is one step closer to reconstructing the shooting, but having one body is not enough without the information of the other four victims,” she said.
Fortun said there were limits to the autopsy of Booc’s body because he was already embalmed and stitched up.
Toxicology could not be performed because the body was already embalmed and the country does not have a top-notch forensic toxicology laboratory, she said.
She said she also did not have access to the clothes Booc was wearing the day he was killed.
Fortun said vital information from the area where Booc was riddled with bullets, witness testimonies and autopsies of the bodies of his slain companions could be taken into account and woven with the results of Booc’s autopsy in order to reconstruct what happened at the time of their death.
The problem in the Philippines, she said, is that death investigations begin with prejudice and the premise that those who were shot were “bad people” or “they are terrorists.”
But science won’t lie and let the dead “speak” about how they died, she said.
Fortun added, “We have seen many deaths that state officials acknowledged, but justified. Have surveys been carried out? In fact, ngayon hindi natin alam kung saan talaga sila (Booc group) pinatay or ituro ang pinangyarihan niyan (We don’t know where they were actually killed and we can’t tell where it happened). Was it on the ground, inside the vehicle, or was it an ambush? It was a military encounter, they said. Anong tinatago niyo? Ito yung fixing impunity eh – yung patay ka lang ng patay na walang responsibility (What are you hiding? This is the framework of impunity – when you continue to kill without accountability).
Booc’s father, Napoleon, said he wanted a more thorough investigation into his son’s death.
Megara Lim, spokeswoman for the Save Our Schools (SOS) network in Cebu, said even the vehicle used by Booc, Gelejurain Ngujo II, Elegyn Balonga, Robert Aragon and Tirso Añar could not be found.
Lim said SOS had received information that Booc and his companions had in fact been taken on the evening of February 23 to a checkpoint near a military headquarters in New Bataan.
She also noted that Balonga communicated with his family via text between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on February 23.
The army claimed the group was killed on the morning of February 24.
“There are too many gaps here, like the timeline leading up to their deaths. Of course, this was all swept away not only by incompetence, but also by the desperate attempt to hide the truth about the deaths of Chad and his companions in New Bataan,” Lim said. – Rappler.com
Grace Cantal-Albasin is a Mindanao-based journalist and recipient of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship