'No intent to solve' drug war deaths by govt, forensic probe shows

·Contributor
·3 min read
Forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun discusses findings on drug war deaths beside Catholic priest Flavie Villanueva, who counsels drug war victims, during a news conference in Manila, Philippines, April 12, 2022. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
Forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun discusses findings on drug war deaths beside Catholic priest Flavie Villanueva, who counsels drug war victims, during a news conference in Manila, Philippines, April 12, 2022. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Dr. Raquel Fortun said that the Duterte government has “no intent” to solve deaths from drug war-related cases after her forensic probe bared irregularities in the cases.

The forensic pathologist bared her initial findings on autopsied victims of Duterte’s bloody drug war in a press briefing on Tuesday (April 12). In the briefing, Fortun reported that falsifications were committed in reports by funeral parlors and the police.

'You have doctors staking their reputation, their name, their license falsifying death certificates,” Fortun said. “What I’m seeing is really, impunity,” she added.

The forensic probe is a first of its kind into the drug war as international experts and organizations were unable to investigate the cases due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to bar the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators from entering the country. Fortun is also one of the only two forensic pathologists in the country.

The examination of the remains was started by Dr. Fortun in 2021, where the autopsied drug war victims were individuals who died from 2016 to 2017.

The autopsy was made possible through Project Arise, a Catholic nonprofit led by activist priest Fr. Flavie Villanueva that was launched to assist relatives of drug war victims.

In the examination of the bodies of 46 victims, Fortun found that at least 7 died from physical trauma due to gunshot wounds but were declared in their documents as deaths from natural causes. Of the 46 bodies, 24 of the 32 gunned down were shot in the head.

“The evidence that I am seeing, they should have been seen the first time around,” Fortun said.

In response to the probe, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra stated that the Department of Justice will "investigate and prosecute those who were responsible for the falsification of the death certificates."

"This is part of our ongoing review of the drug war campaign where deaths of suspects during law enforcement operations occurred," Guevarra told reporters.

But for Fortun, proper systems for investigations are needed as incompetence is evident in part of the government in the drug-related cases. "We don't have a death investigation system, this is hardly taken seriously," the forensic expert said.

The government, through the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), reported in February that 6,225 drug suspects have been killed as of 2021. However, human rights groups estimate 12,000 to 30,000 killed since the start of Duterte’s presidency.

Due to its anomalies and high death toll, Dutere’s bloody drug war is under investigation by the International Criminal Court but was temporarily suspended due to the Philippine government’s request to halt the probe.

Basti Evangelista is a news and opinion writer who focuses on Philippine national politics and sectoral issues. His personal advocacy includes press freedom and social justice. The views expressed are his own.

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