Fortun finds inconsistencies in drug war victims' death records

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 13) — Forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun has found seven cases of inconsistencies in her re-autopsy on exhumed remains of 46 victims of the Duterte administration's bloody war against illegal drugs.

Fortun, one of only two forensic pathologists in the Philippines, on Tuesday revealed finding seven cases wherein a gunshot wound was found in the remains, but the death certificates declared that the victims died due to natural causes, such as hypertension, sepsis, or pneumonia.

Her ongoing investigation covers 46 victims, mostly male who are aged 17 to 55, who died from June 15, 2016 to Aug. 13, 2017. The remains were exhumed from 2021 to 2022 with the help of church-based rehabilitation initiative Program Paghilom.

She said it's clear that some doctors falsified information on the death certificate despite bullet holes mostly found on the head of the victims.

"This is the contentious seven cases where, take note, they were shot and yet look at the cause of death. How can that be? You have doctors staking their reputation, their name, their license falsifying death certificates. There is a law against this," she said.

Fortun added there was one case wherein a bullet was found in the torso, but the death was ruled as acute myocardial infarction due to hypertension.

"He was known to have been shot but the doctor cited the cause of death as acute myocardial infraction due to hypertension... This is a case where he was violently killed and yet the doctor wrote a natural cause. Clearly he did not die of a natural cause," she said.

The veteran medical examiner noted proofs that the victims she conducted post-mortem examination on were from the "poorest of the poor."

She said their occupation, as stated in the death certificates, were either unemployed, scavengers, or blue-collar jobs like construction workers or welders. She added that their state of health, as seen on their teeth, can further show that President Rodrigo Duterte's government targeted the poor in its goal to eradicate the spread of illegal drugs.

"This war on drugs targeted the poorest of the poor. Why? I see the teeth and they're so awful," she said, adding the victims probably have never visited a dentist in their entire life.

This observation is in line with the findings of rights group Amnesty International as early as 2017 that the Duterte administration's anti-drug campaign "is not a war on drugs, but a war on the poor."

RELATED: War vs. poor: Police paid per drug killing – Amnesty International

The outgoing administration's six-year-long anti-illegal drugs operation has claimed the lives of 6,215 based on government data from October 2021. However, the International Criminal Court's pre-trial chamber, which had formally authorized an investigation into the Philippine government's drug war, estimated that around 12,000 to 30,000 people were killed from July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2019.

ICC's supposed probe was temporarily put on hold upon the request of the government.

Philippine authorities are reviewing at least 300 cases of deaths linked to the controversial war on drugs.

The Philippine National Police, for its part, asked Fortun to endorse her findings so they can include them in their investigation.

'No color'

Fortun denied that her findings are influenced by her presidential candidate of choice, Vice President Leni Robredo, who has also criticized Duterte's drug war.

She said critics cannot cast doubt on her findings because "the dead still speak a lot and tell a lot of tales."

"There is no color to what I am saying, there is no pink, no red, no green. This is the truth, we are after the truth. Kung sino tamaan, sorry na lang [If anyone feels alluded to, I'm sorry] but that's forensic science," she said.