MANILA – The Philippine justice secretary promised to launch an investigation on Tuesday when a forensic pathologist said some of the death certificates issued to victims of the country’s drug crackdown had been proved false to show that they died of natural causes.
The Southeast Asian nation has come under international pressure to conduct a thorough investigation into the more than 6,000 people killed by police since President Rodrigo Duterte began his “war on drugs” in 2016.
Forensic expert Raquel Fortune, who has been examining the remains of drug war victims since last July, presented his findings after an investigation into 46 people killed in the first year of Duterte’s crackdown.
Of the 46 cases, one death certificate was missing and many were incomplete, Fortune said in a media briefing.
He said seven death certificates showed that the victims died of natural causes such as sepsis, pneumonia and high blood pressure.
Fortune said, “You doctors give death certificates by proving their reputation, name, license to be false. “There is a law against it.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara said his office would “investigate and prosecute those responsible for forging the death certificate.”
Guevara told Reuters: “This is part of our ongoing review of the drug war campaign where the suspects were killed during a law enforcement operation.”
An analysis of Fortune’s recovered remains showed that at least 32 of the 46 people had died from gunshot wounds. At least 24 of them were shot in the head.
Its results could challenge the government’s description of the war on drugs.
Human rights groups have accused Duterte of inciting deadly violence and said police had massacred unarmed drug suspects as part of the campaign.
Police deny it, and Duterte says police are on the killing spree only for self-defense.
Asked if he saw his results as an attempt to cover up drug war deaths using false death certificates, Fortune replied: “I won’t say no.”
But Fortune, who has consulted on many high-profile criminal cases in the Philippines, also believed there was an element of incompetence and stressed the need for a proper system to investigate deaths in the country.
“It simply came to our notice then. It’s rarely taken seriously, “said Fortune. – Reuters