MANILA — The National Bureau of Investigation has begun investigating cases of erroneous entries in death certificates of drug war victims, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said Wednesday.
His statement came as a reaction to a recent Court of Appeals ruling ordering the Local Civil Registry of Caloocan City to correct the cause of death in the death certificate of Lenin Baylon, a 9-year-old boy who died due to stray bullets during a drug war police operation in December 2016.
His death certificate cited “bronchopneumonia” as the cause of death but the appellate found enough evidence, including a declaration from the medico-legal, that the boy died due to a shooting incident.
Remulla said that this and other cases could be instances of “falsification,” which the NBI is now looking into.
“Siyempre ano 'yan, falsification yan. We have cases actually na they are investigating now. We have 9 cases that we are investigating on wrongful death, inconsistent with death certificates with the actual cause of death after exhumation done by some of our friends from the forensic pathology field upon the request of the families of the victims,” he said.
“And fina-follow-up namin ngayon yan. Pinag-aaralan po ng NBI yung mga nakuha naming mga papeles tsaka mga findings,” he added.
Remulla confirmed that these cases include the remains exhumed by Program Paghilom’s Project Arise led by priest Flavie Villanueva which were autopsied by forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun.
“That’s the one. Nine cases yan. In-autopsy. Nakalagay natural cause of death pero actually may gunshot wounds. Nakita sa autopsy na kinonduct,” he told reporters.
In April this year, Fortun came out with her preliminary findings of her autopsy.
Out of the 46 remains she had examined at that time, seven were shot dead but whose death certificates indicated they died of natural causes.
Some of the causes of death listed include sepsis, acute mycardial infarctions, pneumonia, hypertension, and cerebrovascular accident or stroke.
“So how can that be? You have doctors staking their reputation, their name, their license, falsifying death certificates. There’s a law against this,” Fortun said during an April 12 press conference with Villanueva.
One of the cases Fortun revisited is the case of a 47-year-old driver from Caloocan City who disappeared on July 31, 2016, only to be found by his wife in a morgue the next day.
“May tama po siya ng bala sa ulo. Butas po. Ang laki eh,” Gemma, not her real name, told ABS-CBN News Wednesday. She has asked to hide her and her husband’s identity for security reasons.
“Grabe po ang iyak. Hindi ko matanggap kasi maganda po ‘yung paalam niya sa akin noong gabi ng Sabado,” she said of her husband, “Alfred.”
The funeral home allegedly asked for P15,000 to have her husband undergo autopsy, on top of P35,000 for funeral services.
Unable to produce the amount, Gemma agreed to sign a waiver and to have an illness reflected as the cause of her husband’s death.
“Di ko po alam, tuliro po ako noong time na yun dahil gusto ko po mailabas ang asawa ko. Kasi, kumbaga maghapon, kumbaga magdamag na yung hindi nauwi…’Yung nararamdaman ko, gusto ko na siya mailabas na. Pumayag po ako, pinapirma po nila ako,” she said.
A copy of Alfred’s death certificate shows “pneumonia”, written by hand, as the cause of death.
But a police report said Alfred was gunned down and left on the street with his mouth masked and a placard with the words “PUSHER AKO WAG TULARAN,” a common feature among drug war victims killed by unknown vigilantes.
Three sachets of suspected shabu or methamphetamine chloride were also allegedly found.
This, despite Gemma’s claim witnesses last saw her husband picked up by the police.
The same police report said Gemma executed a waiver stating that she was not interested in any investigation regarding her husband’s death and that she refused to let her husband's body undergo autopsy.
Gemma would later on join Program Paghilom, a program intended to provide interventions to kins of drug war victims to help them heal and rebuild their lives while seeking to access judicial remedies.
“Maganda po ang offer sa akin ng Paghilom na kung gusto mo na patunayan natin na yung waiver na pinirmahan mo is kasinungalingan na pinagawa, kasi pneumonia po ang nakalagay sa death certificate niya, pumayag po ako i-autopsy po yung asawa ko,” she said.
“Tapos nung na-ano na po siya ni Dr. Fortun, lumabas po yung totoo. Hindi po pneumonia ang ikinamatay niya, tama ng baril po sa ulo,” she added.
On Wednesday, Gemma received a subpoena from the NBI requesting her presence next week in the probe that it is conducting on “alleged extrajudicial killings as directed by Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Crispin Remulla.”
Gemma admitted she got scared upon receiving the subpoena but she was also happy that the investigation is finally moving.
Remulla said the NBI will hold those responsible for the falsification of death certificates accountable.
“We’ll just go with the law. Kung ano ang violations ng law, we will pursue that. We will pursue those who have violated the law. Hindi pwedeng i-tolerate ‘to,” he said.
For IDEALS, the law group handling Lenin’s and Alfred’s cases, it is important that the correct causes of deaths be reflected in the death certificates of drug war victims.
IDEALS legal officer Francis Rupert Mangrobang says this will ensure that the correct data are fed to those in power for them to make better policy decisions, such as whether to treat the drug problem a crime issue or a health issue.
The effort, he told ANC Rundown, goes beyond finding liability but extends to State recognition that the deaths in the drug war did happen.
“Hindi lamang accountability or mapanagot yung kung sino ang may gawa kung hindi magsimula sa pagkilala na mayroong ganitong nangyayari. At sa pagsimulang pagkilala nito ay nagkakaroon tayo ng responsibilidad na tugunan din yung mga naging biktima ng karahasan,” he said.
For someone like Gemma who lost a loved one, it is important for the truth to come out in the open.
“Importante sa akin ipakita kung ano ang ginawa ng gobyerno sa kaniya,” she said.