Marcos government unwittingly prosecutes Duterte

March 18, 2023

More than four years after it has been uttered, the statement from the ever-fluctuating Harry Roque only confirms the frail government position on the ICC case of Rodrigo Duterte. Shooting from the hips as always, Roque said then that the Duterte complaint before the ICC has been disproven by the Caloocan city regional trial court’s verdict convicting three police killers for the murder of 17-year old Kian delos Santos.

 “There’s absolutely no need for the ICC to waste time and resources on the complaint against Mr. Duterte,” he said.

Pitting that with the latest news today on what particular resource the Marcos government will put up for the defense of Duterte reinforces that infirmity. The Solicitor General has announced that the Marcos government has hired a foreign counsel to help in the appeal it has filed this week against the resumption of the Duterte investigation on his crimes against humanity.

The criminal justice system of the Philippines is working, and the paramount proof of that is the conviction of the Kian delos Santos police killers – is the gist of what government is saying. It thinks the Kian case is its flagship defense, its prized secret advantage in defending Duterte.

But is it? Government had better improve its line of defense if it still can. In fact, the Kian delos Santos case has leveled up as a case of fact-checking the police’s autopsy report. By the science of medical forensics, those reports are now stripped bare for what they are — deliberately botched to play down police culpability. The full integrity of the criminal justice system was not satisfied.

The postmortem findings by forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun should cause either distress or disaster to the Duterte case.

Fortun discovered, for example, that only superficial cuts have been made during the autopsy on Kian’s body. That means no internal examination was carried out. Yet the police autopsy report referenced Kian’s stomach contents and was signed by a medical doctor contracted by the police. That may qualify as obstruction to justice.

She also found a bullet lodged in Kian’s neck, yet the examinations on the corpse by the police and the Public Attorneys Office did not mention that. In 15 other remains, she also found bullets not reported by police postmortems.

Of 74 remains examined by Fortun, she found 11 whose deaths were attributed to natural causes such as pneumonia or sepsis. Medical authorities were complicit in a cover-up. That is the evidence that government will bring to the ICC. But ICC will also weigh that against evidence from Fortun’s postmortems.

Police operatives had usually used the standard Duterte alibi of nanlaban (self-defense). Fortun’s examinations contradicted that. “They were shot not to immobilize them or render them safer for police to apprehend – they were shot multiple times in the chest, in the head,” she says.

The case alone of Renato Austria tells us the gravity of Duterte’s crime against humanity. Austria’s exhumed remains was among the first Fortun examined. When Renato’s mother brought his remains to the funeral home the police had recommended, she was asked to pay P35,000 for an autopsy. She had no money. But even on the matter of mortuary, the police appeared to be in cahoots with the undertaker.

Having no choice, she agreed to sign a death certificate declaring that Renato had died of sepsis. Pursuing a criminal investigation was next to impossible. “My only goal was to get his body. So I just signed the documents, even though I knew it wasn’t sepsis,” she said. A government that was blatantly anti-poor – tell us if that is not inhumane.

And then they buried him in a literal pauper’s grave – it was for lease for five years only. When the lease period ran out, they had to exhume again.

Government has not come to grips with the powerful evidence the ICC has against Duterte. By hiring a foreign counsel, it uses the route of ethical scandal by using taxpayers’ money to defend a madman against its own citizens. By insisting the criminal justice system is working despite the fact that no higher ups in the Duterte ladder of kill hierarchy have been prosecuted, it chose instead to bury its head in the sand, which may ironically lead to Duterte’s indictment in the ICC.

It merely pretends a problem does not exist.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.

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VERA Files

VERA Files is a nonstock, nonprofit, independent media organization. Founded in March 2008, it is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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