Bad forensics hit over missing 58th Maguindanao massacre victim

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 20 2019 04:08 PM

One of the convicted suspects in the 2009 massacre looks from inside a bus after their promulgation at a court in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig city, south of Manila, Philippines, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. The Philippine court on Thursday found key members of a powerful political clan guilty of a 2009 massacre in a southern province that left 57 people, including 32 media workers, dead in a brazen act that horrified the world. Aaron Favila, AP

MANILA -- The prosecution’s failure to account for a 58th victim in the Ampatuan massacre can be blamed on bad forensics, according to an expert who said she found a contaminated crime scene in Maguindanao province 10 years ago.

Five members of the powerful Ampatuan clan were convicted with 38 others on Thursday over the murder of 57 people, whose bodies were mutilated and dumped in a shallow grave with a backhoe, in one of the worst election-related attacks in the Philippines.

Unlike the relatives of these victims, the family of Reynaldo Momay was not awarded damages by a Quezon City judge, who cited the prosecution‘s failure to “sufficiently establish” his death.

“That is a grave, grave injustice. That is so forensically bad... So anong nangyari sa kanya (what happened to him)?” said Raquel Fortun, a Manila-based forensic pathologist brought in to examine the crime scene 4 days after the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre.

A denture found in the crime scene did not necessarily show that it belonged to Momay, a photographer who joined a group of journalists covering a local politician’s registration to challenge the Ampatuans in Maguindanao’s gubernatorial election in 2010.

CONTAMINATION

Human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno raised concern over the “integrity of the crime scene,” which he feared “was not properly preserved.”

“Therefore, there were probably vital evidence that could have been very useful for the prosecution that were lost because of the contamination of the scene,” he said in a Quezon City forum.

Fortun recalled seeing images of soldiers allegedly spitting, smoking, and touching evidence, such as vehicle doors with their bare hands, when they first arrived at the crime scene.

“Contaminated talaga yung crime scene (The crime scene was really contaminated),” she told the forum.

“This was really awful, how not to do CSI (crime scene investigation). The first responders made a lot of mistakes.”

Fortun noted how the group was seen in video footage stepping on the ground” where those who had carried out the killings “left a lot of themselves there” such as vehicle tire marks.

Crime scene investigators found 112 empty shells from 2 types of firearms from the massacre site. But Fortun said they could have found more with systematic search.

Authorities, she said, should have planned more carefully how to dig up the bodies, how to transport then, and where they would be autopsied.

CRIME SCENE

Bodies were supposed to have been placed in body bags, not merely covered with banana leaves, she said.

“Ang body, crime scene yan. And dami nyang ebidensya. The fact na nilatag mo sya sa surface that is unprotected, you already contaminated it,” she said.

With the way the crime scene was processed, Fortun feared it might affect the case when appealed.

Lawyer Ramon Esguerra, a longtime criminal law practitioner, said a supposedly contaminated crime scene would not necessarily jeopardize the case “because a conviction can be based on other evidence.”

The ruling by judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes was heavily based on the testimonies of witnesses present during the planning and execution of the massacre.