Dacera's body embalmed prior to autopsy, Metro Manila police chief confirms

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Flight attendant Christine Angelica Dacera (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 8) — The body of flight attendant Christine Angelica Dacera was embalmed before an initial autopsy was done by police, Metro Manila police chief Vicente Danao, Jr. confirmed Friday.

"Sinabi po niya 'yun na na-embalm bago po na-autopsy [He said that the body was embalmed before it went through autopsy]," Danao told CNN Philippines' The Source, referring to forensic examiner Police Major Michael Nick Sarmiento.

Danao questioned the move. However, he admitted that revised rules of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) due to the COVID-19 pandemic allowed such arrangements.

TIMELINE: The Christine Dacera Case

"Meron po tayong pinalabas [We released] last year regarding the protocol on how to conduct an autopsy when there is a found dead body – baka 'yun po ang naging basis niya," he added. "We are in a pandemic time, baka po hindi natin alam what's the cause of her death."

"This is a very abnormal time kumbaga sa atin. Sa akin pong experience, mas nauuna po dapat 'yung pag-conduct ng autopsy dahil kapag na-embalm na po 'yan, definitely it will change lalong-lalo na kung anong meron diyan," Danao said.

[Translation: This is a very abnormal time for us. In my experience, the conduct of the autopsy should come first because when a body is embalmed, definitely that will change what's inside.]

Dacera's family cried foul regarding the first autopsy report provided by the Philippine National Police, which cited ruptured aortic aneurysm or natural causes for the 23-year-old's death on New Year's Day.

READ: Foul play in flight attendant’s death? Initial exam showed suspects used ‘force,’ police say

Her mother, Sharon Dacera, said the autopsy report did not factor in the bruises, lacerations, and supposed semen found in her body, which were the basis of the initial rape and homicide complaint the family filed against 11 respondents.

The Dacera family also requested for a second autopsy, but expert forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun warned Thursday that it may be too late to retrieve swab samples from Christine's body.

It has been a week since the flight attendant was found dead in a hotel room in Makati City.

The Makati City Prosecutor's Office ordered on Wednesday the release of three men who were with Dacera on the day she was found unconscious in the bath tub of the hotel room where she and her friends spent the night partying to welcome the New Year. It also asked for additional evidence.

The fiscal asked for DNA analysis, toxicology or chemical analysis, and histopath examination reports, which Danao said are currently being conducted by the PNP Crime Laboratory. These tests will support or debunk claims of rape and drug intoxication.

The Metro Manila police chief added that he is not sure if investigators were able to extract specimen samples given the fact that the body was embalmed before the tests were done.

Danao admitted that there is a "big possibility" that the samples taken from Dacera may be contaminated due to the embalming process, which entails draining body fluids and gases and injecting chemicals to slow down decay.

"Sabi niya (medico-legal officer), mas mape-preserve nga 'yung evidence kapag na-embalm. Sabi ko: Paano kaya mangyayari 'yan? Paano kung pinaliguan mo 'yan?," Danao said.

[Translation: He (medico-legal officer said) the evidence will be preserved due to embalming. But I said: How can that happen? What if you already rinsed the body?]

The PNP has formed Special Investigation Task Group Dacera to probe the incident, which has been a hotly debated case the past few days. The group is looking to gather additional evidence to "strengthen" the case, which will undergo preliminary investigation on January 13.

The National Bureau of Investigation is assisting the PNP in the probe.

RELATED: ‘We are just starting’: DOJ stresses Dacera case not dismissed as search for more evidence continues