MANILA — An alleged middleman in the killing of broadcaster Percival "Percy Lapid" Mabasa did not die of natural causes, a second autopsy conducted by an independent forensic pathologist asserted.
Dr. Raquel Fortun on Saturday unveiled the results of the autopsy that she conducted on the body of alleged middleman Jun Villamor, an inmate who died at the National Bilibid Prison on Oct. 18. The re-autopsy was completed last Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters together with Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla, Fortun said that it was clear in her findings that Villamor did not die of natural causes.
Instead, the cause of death was asphyxia by plastic bag suffocation.
"The most pertinent findings would be, No. 1, a history of asphyxia by plastic bag suffocation," said Fortun. "No. 2, pulmonary congestion, edema and hemorrhages. No. 3, schistosomiasis of the liver. It's an incidental finding."
"No. 4, status post-autopsy, [there is] evidence of medical intervention consisting of a needle puncture mark on the dorsal right hand. I saw this on zooming in on the pictures," she added.
There were also traces of methamphetamine or shabu in Villamor's body, based on the preliminary urine toxicology conducted on the inmate.
According to Fortun, it is clear that Villamor's death was a homicide.
"There is information that he expressed fear for his life shortly before his demise and that he died from suffocation by means of a plastic bag over his head," the doctor said. "The autopsy findings showed no gross morphologic cause of death and this is consistent with the reported asphyxia."
"Preliminary urine toxicology showed methamphetamine. Based on available information regarding the circumstances surrounding death, the manner was homicide," she added.
INCONSISTENCIES BETWEEN 2 AUTOPSY RESULTS?
Remulla said that the presence of methamphetamine in Villamor's body is further proof that there are illegal drugs within the Bilibid prison system.
"The presence of methamphetamine is another factor that we should note. Yung rumors na meron talagang shabu sa Bilibid is confirmed by the fact that the person who died had shabu on his system. I think it is important that is not in the first report," said Remulla.
However, the Justice Secretary makes it clear that there are no inconsistencies between Fortun's findings and the first autopsy report by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
"I don't think there is any inconsistency with her findings, except that she just found a little more," said Remulla. "That is, of course, the methamphetamine in the system and other things na merong pagkakaiba."
"So this helps us explain a lot of things and reveals something the way the Bilibid runs," he added.
The first autopsy by the NBI found no external physical injury on Villamor.
But Fortun had questioned why the body was embalmed 2 days before it was autopsied, noting the effect of chemicals on tissue samples. She also said there were no findings about Villamor's head or brain and it was unclear if loss of oxygen was looked into.
'INVESTIGATION IS ALMOST OVER'
Meanwhile, Remulla also confirmed on Saturday that authorities now have in custody seven persons of interest in the case. Investigators are confident that they are close to solving the killings of both the inmate and Mabasa, said the justice secretary.
"We are now holding on custody ang pitong tao na marahil ay may alam sa nangyari sa kanya at ito po ay ating hinahawakan na ngayon," he said. "Pitong tao po ito na ating tatanungin tungkol sa bagay na ito."
"Maaaring ito na ang magpapaliwanag at magtuturo na ang pagkamatay ni Jun Villamor ay hindi aksidente, ngunit isa pong pinagplanuhang kamatayan," he added.
(We are now holding on custody seven people who probably know what happened. These are seven people we can ask about this. Maybe they could explain and reveal that Jun Villamor's death was not an accident, but rather, premeditated.)
"The investigation is almost over. It's a matter of filing the case, and probably being able to identify the masterminds in this case," Remulla also said. "We are saying masterminds, in the plural, because we [have] two persons of interest."
The secretary declined to name the two persons of interest, saying: "We have to determine everything and we do not want to violate any rights of anybody. We're just here to make sure that we conduct everything in accordance with the law."
The NBI and the Philippine National Police will file the cases against the alleged masterminds of the crime, Remulla said.
Villamor died on Oct. 18, hours after gunman Joel Escorial told reporters he shot Mabasa on the orders of someone from Bilibid. Escorial did not reveal the mastermind or the motive behind the Oct. 3 killing. But he identified Villamor as the supposed middleman in the murder plot.
Authorities later said they secured a second middleman who is detained at a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facility.
Government this week placed Villamor’s sister under witness protection after revealing her brother told her who allegedly gave the hit order on Mabasa.
Meanwhile, Fortun appealed for improvements in the penal system to avoid more cases like Villamor.
"We do not have a system of death investigation," she said. "All inmates dying in custody… should be investigated. We really could have lost this one, if we did not do a semblance of investigation."
"Look at the findings we've got -- it's not just a matter of how the individual was killed. It's also a health issue… There is a parasitic infection. These people die of communicable diseases in jail. So wouldn't you want to check the jails?"
"We don't want our inmates to be dying. They're supposed to be under state custody, wards of the state. They should not be dying, and they should not be killed like this."
Remulla, for his part, said a copy of Fortun's autopsy report will be sent to the Bureau of Corrections to serve as a guide on improving their facilities.