MANILA— The Philippine justice secretary pledged on Tuesday to launch an investigation after a forensic pathologist said some death certificates issued for victims of the country’s crackdown on drugs had been falsified to show they died of natural causes.
The Southeast Asian country has come under international pressure to hold a thorough probe of the more than 6,000 people killed by police since President Rodrigo Duterte launched a “war on drugs” after coming to power in 2016.
Forensic expert Raquel Fortun, who has been examining exhumed remains of drug war victims since last July, presented her findings after investigating 46 individuals who were killed in the first year of Duterte’s crackdown.
Out of the 46, in one case a death certificate was missing and for many others certificates were incomplete, Fortun told a media briefing.
Seven death certificates showed the victims died of natural cases like sepsis, pneumonia and hypertension, she said.
“You have doctors staking their reputations, names, licenses falsifying death certificates,” Fortun said. “There’s a law against this.”
Department of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said his office would “investigate and prosecute those who were responsible for the falsification of the death certificates.”
“This is part of our ongoing review of the drug war campaign where deaths of suspects during law enforcement operations occurred,” Guevarra told Reuters.
Fortun’s analysis of the exhumed remains showed at least 32 of the 46 died of gunshot wounds. At least 24 of them were shot in the head.
Her findings could challenge the government’s narrative of the war on drugs.
Human rights groups accuse Duterte of inciting deadly violence and say police have murdered unarmed drug suspects on a massive scale as part of the campaign.
Police deny this, and Duterte says police are under orders to kill only in self-defense.
Asked if she saw her findings as indicating an attempt to cover up drug war deaths using false death certificates, Fortun replied: “I would not say no.”
But Fortun, who has consulted on many high-profile criminal cases in the Philippines, also believed there was an element of incompetence and underlined the need for a proper system to investigate deaths in the country.
“We don’t have a death investigation system. This is hardly taken seriously,” Fortun said.
—Reporting by Karen Lema and Eloisa LopezEditing by Ed Davies