‘Kulang sa sistema’: Push for forensic science education highlighted amid lack of forensic pathologists in Philippines

January 7, 2021 - 5:26 PM
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Illustration by Clker-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay

The need for proper forensic science education in the Philippines was highlighted following reports that there are only two forensic pathologists in the country.

The two forensic pathologists Cecilia Lim and Raquel Fortun were interviewed by some news outlets this week in light of the controversies surrounding the death of Christine Dacera, a flight attendant who was found unconscious at a bathtub in a hotel room in Makati City on New Year’s Day or on January 1.

Police reports and the initial autopsy report stated that Dacera died due to ruptured aortic aneurysm.

READ: Premature ‘case closed’: Suspects in flight attendant’s death contradict PNP’s initial probe

The Philippine National Police Chief Major General Debold Sinas, however, insisted that Dacera was also supposedly raped due to her lacerations and fluid in her private parts.

In a report of GMA Digital Specials, Fortun, who handled the prominent cases such as Ozone disco fire, the Dacer-Corbito murder and the Maguindanao Massacre, lamented the lack of a proper death investigation system in the country.

“Kulang tayo sa sistema. Wala tayong death investigation system na automatic ‘yung doctor doon na death investigator ay actually forensic pathologist. So imagine, gaano kalaki ‘yung problema natin tulad niyan,” she said.

Fortun also noted that remains of victims such as Dacera’s often get immediately transferred to the funeral parlor that is ill-equipped to handle evidence.

“Yung katawan ay ebidensiya. Ito bang mga taga punerarya ba ay marunong mag-handle ng ebidensya? Hindi,” she said.

“Dadamputin lang ‘yung bangkay, dadalhin sa punerarya tapos ‘yung morgue nila hindi naman angkop mapanghawak ng ebidensya. Pang emballing lang siya practically,” she added.

Lim likewise said that the current investigation system relies heavily on testimonies from witnesses, instead of testimonies being supplemented by physical evidence.

“Masyado tayo nagre-rely sa witness testimony. Ang problema kasi hindi alam ng judge kung totoo ‘yung sinasabi o hindi,” Lim said.

“Makakatulong ‘yung physical evidence. ‘Yun ‘yung mag-susupport sa mga witnesses niyo kung mapapaniwalaan niya ‘yung witness o hindi,” she added.

Role of forensic pathologist

Merriam-Webster defines forensic science or forensics as “relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems.”

A forensic pathologist, meanwhile, is in-charge of studying or examining the cause and manner of death of corpses in cases of suspicious deaths.

“Gumagawa kami ng external examination. Tinitignan naming ’yung mga itsura ng mga sugat o lapses ng mga sugat sa labas ng katawan tapos bubuksan naming ’yung katawan na tinatawag na autopsy,” Lim said.

“Doon makikita namin kung may mga character ang mga sugat na makakatulong samin na pwede masabi namin na ito ay accident, murder or homicide, or suicide,” she added.

They further explained that insects can also be used in the examination to determine the age of the body.

The experts noted that such activities can take from hours to several months depending on the crime scenes.

The revelations of Fortun and Lim on the current state of local forensics drew sentiments of disappointment and frustrations from users on Facebook and Twitter. Online users are saddened by the overall lack of access to quality education here.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

Some claimed this could be the reason why the authorities could have committed glaring errors in their investigations.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

Other users hoped that forensic science could also be available to less fortunate Filipinos.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

On Dacera’s autopsy report

In another interview with CNN Philippines, Fortun described the autopsy report on Dacera’s remains as “very short.”

“It’s a typical medico-legal report locally done. The fact that it’s very short, it’s the usual stuff I see. An autopsy especially a forensic one necessarily requires a lot of detail in it. The doctor is documenting what he or she is seeing on the body,” she said.

Fortun also criticized the PNP’s work on the nuances written there.

“The autopsy goes beyond the cause of death. Some things like the body height is 164 cm. You know, if you have a dead body, you don’t speak of height. You call it length,” she said.

Fortun cited histopathology, swab test or rape kit, DNA analysis and toxicology as among the important information that must be included in an autopsy report.

“It’s kind of like a package deal. When you do the examination, you’re supposed to have planned already what other tests will be done,” she said.