More questions raised as DOJ says NBI got urine sample from Dacera’s embalmed body

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 13 2021 12:51 AM

MANILA — A National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) forensic team was able to extract urine sample from the body of deceased flight attendant Christine Dacera, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed Tuesday.

“I was informed that the NBI was able to extract about 100 ml of urine from the subject’s body,” Guevarra said in a message to ABS-CBN News.

“It could provide a lot of information to the forensic team. The results of the laboratory examination may come out in a few days,” he added.

NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin on Monday said they will examine 3 boxes of biological samples taken from the NBI forensic team’s re-autopsy of Dacera’s body on Saturday, a day before she was laid to rest in General Santos City. 

Lavin however refused to specify what type of biological samples these were except to say that they found “encouraging” leads.

“Maaaring may crime. That’s what I’m saying. That’s about 80 percent of pieces of evidence that we have,” he said Monday.

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MORE QUESTIONS

But Guevarra’s confirmation raised more questions about the probe into Dacera’s cause of death, first of which is whether it’s still possible to recover urine 9 days after the death of a person.

Dacera was found unconscious in a bathtub in a hotel in Makati City on January 1 following a night of partying to celebrate the new year.

Her companions attempted to revive her but she was declared dead upon arrival at the Makati Medical Center.

In response to questions on Twitter Tuesday night, forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun told ABS-CBN News several factors need to be considered if urine can still be recovered from the body of a dead person.

“If the bladder is intact and there is urine in the first place; if body isn’t decomposed; if body hasn’t been autopsied because the bladder is supposed to be excised, opened, examined,” she said.

“What if embalmed? How was the bladder, was it intact or punctured? How was embalming done,” she added.

Authorities admitted Dacera’s body had been embalmed even before she was autopsied on January 2 supposedly as part of COVID-19 quarantine protocols. 

The NBI re-autopsy came 7 days later.

Embalming involves draining the blood from the veins and replacing it with a formalin-based fluid, raising the likelihood that the samples taken may have been contaminated.

NBI’s Lavin himself admitted the organs they examined have been “contaminated.”

“Although the human body of Dacera had been compromised, most of the pieces of the organs are contaminated due to embalming, but we have encouraging results,” he said Monday.

For Fortun, the reliability of the samples taken as evidence will depend on how the re-autopsy was conducted.

“How did they recover the urine? Aspirated carefully? Then what? Sealed, labeled, how transported, turned over to lab. What tests will be done. Qualifications of lab, personnel. Methodology, results. Even if something's in it what's the significance,” she explained.

But a bigger concern for Fortun is a statement in the PNP’s medico-legal report that said Dacera’s “urinary bladder is empty,” based on a copy of the report that circulated online. 

The PNP has not confirmed the authenticity of the copy but referred to a key conclusion in the report that “ruptured aortic aneurysm” was the cause of death.

“Multimillion-peso question: why no urine in PNP report yet NBI found some. How was first exam done, labanan ng documentation who’s telling the truth. If first autopsy faked bladder findings, everything in the report (and every report this doctor did in the past) is suspect,” Fortun said.

A urine toxicology report is useful in screening substances that passed through the urine, she said, although she pointed out that it can only indicate exposure, not necessarily the extent. 

Public dissatisfaction with the police’s handling of the investigation heightened when Makati prosecutors decided to release 3 respondents in custody and order the complaint to undergo preliminary investigation due to insufficient evidence submitted.

Guevarra ordered the NBI to conduct its own probe into the incident after he himself found the Makati Police’s investigation “not thorough enough.” 

The Dacera family has filed a complaint for gross negligence and gross incompetence against Police Major Michael Nick Sarmiento, the PNP medico-legal officer who conducted the autopsy.