News Southern Tagalog

Forensic pathologist demands justice for COPLAN ASVAL victims as findings reveal they were ‘shot to be killed’

ST progressives also sounded the alarm on possible July 10 raids.

“All of them had shots [to] the chest, so they were really shot to be killed,” forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun said regarding her findings on the nine killed in March’s COPLAN ASVAL, otherwise known as the Bloody Sunday Massacre (BSM).

This was one of the many bombshells dropped in Defend Southern Tagalog’s (ST) latest conference last July 7.

Joining Dr. Fortun were human rights (HR) representatives, relatives, as well as National Union of People’s Lawyers’ (NUPL) own Atty. Josalee Deinla, collectively calling for justice for the victims and the immediate release of the six others arrested last March 7, following Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP)’s organized crackdown in the region. (READ: 9 patay, 4 arestado matapos ang ‘Bloody Sunday’ sa Timog Katagalugan)

Nananatiling hindi pa rin natin nakakamit ang hustisya at napakabagal pa rin ng proseso na ating isinasagawa sa ngayon,” said Defend ST spokesperson Charm Maranan, highlighting PNP’s lack of cooperation with legal teams in the four months since the incident. (READ: Families, friends reiterate demand for justice a month after COPLAN ASVAL’s Bloody Sunday).

Despite the legal teams’ constant requests for documents regarding the killings and arrests, Maranan shared that PNP had not replied to their messages.

Karapatan-ST has requested for the cooperation of PNP to furnish us copies of search warrant applications, at iba pang mga dokumento na makakatulong para sa pag-alam pa natin ano ba yung iba pang circumstances. We were also asking them for copies of the autopsy reports…but to no avail. They have not cooperated with us,” Maranan added.

In truth, a day after COPLAN ASVAL, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra included the incident in the DOJ’s task force focused on political killings, or “killings of people with known advocacies and political causes” – a task force covered by what is known as Administrative Order (AO) No. 35.

Despite this, DOJ had only so far conducted one crime scene ocular inspection, according to Maranan. Of the nine victims that were killed, the inspection was done only in the Workers’ Assistance Center (WAC) in Dasmariñas, Cavite, where then-Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Cavite spokesperson Manny Asuncion was killed.

Maranan then expressed that the government agencies’ cooperation is not even slow anymore – rather “none at all.”

The July 7 Defend-ST press conference.

Dissecting the truth

HR groups uncovered similarities between the COPLAN ASVAL killings and the Duterte administration’s anti-drug war operations, with both employing ‘Tokhang-style’ killings.

“Very recently, Investigate PH released its report that killings on activists [are similar to] patterns of Tokhang-style killings in the Anti-Drug War,” said Maranan.

According to independent global investigative panel Investigate PH,  the police used the strategy of “knocking and pleading” with drug-involved individuals during its notorious anti-drug war operations – a “systemic killing machine” that is now adapted in the government’s anti-insurgency efforts of “killing political dissenters”.

Apart from the corpses being touched and moved by the police, Dr. Fortun described the bodies as already embalmed and autopsied by state forces, and already decomposing by the time she conducted the examinations from March 9 to 13. These and the gunshot wounds and bullet holes being “altered and sutured” severely hindered Dr. Fortun from looking into their bodies properly.

“I received information that at some point, the embalmer reportedly recovered a bullet. What is the business of an embalmer, recovering a bullet [from Asuncion’s body]? This particular case would have been the easiest, because it was the only one not autopsied [by others], not examined,” explained Dr. Fortun.

Said to be the preferred forensic pathologist of the victims’ families, Dr. Fortun also examined the body of slain National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randy Echanis (READ: A week of terror: Human rights groups slam state attacks on activists, civilians).

The forensic expert added that the bodies were asked to be delivered with their clothes, but only two of the nine victims were received in such a way. She noted the importance of receiving the bodies clothed, because it dictates how the bullets passed through the body.

“This is the ultimate forensic pathology challenge we’re getting. You have embalmed previously examined bodies, some decomposing and [with] multiple gunshot wounds. Ang hirap-hirap sagutin yung mga tanong in that way,” Dr. Fortun recalled.

Due to bodies not being “fresh” by the time Dr. Fortun received them, she could not conduct a full autopsy, but only chest and abdomen incisions. This led to her reaching a dead end.

Regardless of the process being “full of limitations,” Dr. Fortun noted that the corpses all suffered similar injuries – “the targets are mostly [in the] chest [area].” In other words, she claimed that all victims were indeed shot with the intent to kill.

Moreover, she was able to identify arm and hand injuries that suggested “defense-type injuries.”

“Can you reconstruct what the position was [sic] of the victim? Could she have reacted to the assault, the gunshot wound, because that’s instinctive. Is this consistent with [the] nanlaban [alibi]?” Dr. Fortun said, recalling previous cases when police would use the excuse of victims fighting authorities to kill them.

Dr. Fortun admitted that the investigations must go far beyond forensic examinations. According to her, crime scene and shooting reconstructions, witnesses’ accounts, firearms identification, among other details must all be taken into account.

“I wish I could tell you exactly what happened. But remember, this is where forensic pathology comes in. We focus on the body, but at the same time, our findings are correlated to other aspects of the investigation,” she said.

In her closing statements, Dr. Fortun asserted that all the victims “deserve a homicide investigation.”

Dr. Raquel Fortun discusses her findings.

‘Tokhang,’ they did

Adding fuel to the fire recently, activists and HR workers fear for their lives, after receiving reports of possible raids in the next few days.

Nito lamang July 4, nagkaroon din kami ng verified reports that there will be another wave [of Tokhang-style raids] – bali pang-third wave na po ito – and this will be on July 10,” said Karapatan­ Timog Katagalugan (TK) spokesperson Kyle Salgado.

The reports came two days after PNP Chief Guillermo Eleazar said that they will be “acting swifty and decisively […] to intensify police operations against partisan armed groups and loose firearms”.

Progressives constantly fear how their HR work itself might also serve them their demise – reminiscent of Dandy Miguel, then-vice chairperson of Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan Kilusang Mayo Uno (PAMANTIK-KMU) and was among those who primarily sought and fought for justice for the BSM victims, only eventually to be killed later in March.

Dr. Fortun said, “Dandy Miguel was the one coordinating the autopsies, the one sending the bodies to us, coordinating with the families [of the victims], and so on… He himself was killed. He himself was brought to us. He is our Autopsy No. 18 for 2021. One big question I ask is, ‘Who have wanted him killed?’”

In addition to the Tokhang-style strategy, HR groups also expressed how the police violated the victims’ dead bodies – with the General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Action (GABRIELA) – ST using the term “binaboy” on Asuncion’s body. It was said that Asuncion was dragged from the second floor before he was brought to the hospital.

“A CSI [crime scene investigation] was done. Dinocument dapat nila. In this case, mukhang kinaladkad pa yung body, tinanggal sa scene – why would you do that? Lalo na kung state agent ka, state forces kahindi ba alam mo kung ano yung tama?” said Dr. Fortun, expressing disappointment on what the police did to the corpses.

She further expressed that these actions led to heavy challenges and difficulties that she encountered during the examination of the bodies.

“[When] you have a shooting, what happens is you freeze everything. Nobody does anything. Iwanan mo. Kung patay na, iwanan mo. Kasi kung nasaan yung bangkay, ano yung posisyon niya, that helps a lot… Preserve the crime scene. But this is the Philippines. What is happening is patay na bangkay [sic], bubuhatin, dadalhin sa ospital – that’s crazy.”

Atty. Josalee Deinla shares updates on legal proceedings.

Things that don’t add up

Atty. Deinla went on to present developments on legal proceedings, specifically on the case of her client and human rights worker Nimfa Lanzanas. The latter was illegally arrested in her house in Calamba, Laguna in front of her grandchildren. She was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The lawyer shared that during the first hearing, a bomb technician presented the fragmentation hand grenade that was allegedly taken from Lanzanas’ house. However, Atty. Deinla was highly suspicious regarding the credibility of the witness’ accounts.

Dinala po ng bomb technician na ito yung granada sa korte para makita ng hukom at ng depensa, pero ang witness na ito ay walang personal knowledge ng mga sirkumstansiya kung saan diumano nasamsam o nakita daw yung hand grenade sa bahay daw ni Nanay Nimfa,” she said.

Also part of the allegations against Lanzanas were that she was part of a gun-running syndicate that allegedly conducts robberies, extortions, and gun-for-hire activities in ST. Atty. Deinla said that such allegations do not much differ with previous cases filed against activists, such as the Bacolod 57, Tondo 3, Paco 2, and HR Day 7 in 2020 (READ: Labor center blasts ‘Search Warrant Factory Queen’ judge for HR Day 7 arrest).

She explained that such cases always involved “fake informants,” who claim to personally know the suspected individuals who own or sell incriminating items such as firearms.

“These witnesses of course are all planted, at mayroong mga ‘di magkakatugmang material inconsistencies, at mga detalye sa kanilang mga ebidensya at sirkumstansiya.”

Atty. Deinla noted the difficulty of verifying the witness’ identity, saying that the witness’ ID was not even included in the records. The alleged witness also reportedly does not have a specific address, with a record only noting that they resided in a barangay in Tondo, Manila.

Atty. Deinla also said that the witness does not know where Lanzanas specifically lives, and that they “do not remember” the person who led them to Lanzanas’ house.

“Contrary to human experience yung naratibong natunton yung bahay ni Nanay Nimfa at na-identify bilang source ng firearms. Sa kaso na ito, itong impormante, nagtanong-tanong lang daw sa mga kapitbahay, kung saan siya ay isang dayo. Nagtanong-tanong lang siya kung saan makakabili ng baril, parang bumibili lang sa sari-sari store. Ganun ka-ridiculous, ka-absurdo yung mga alegasyon sa search warrant application na ito,” Atty. Deinla expressed.

She noted that there are gaps in the procedural rules and safeguards regarding the process of search and seizure. To assure Lanzanas’ release, Atty. Deinla invokes that “there is clear and convincing evidence that the police and their informants asserted deliberate false courts during the application of search warrants,” and that there are “material inconsistencies and unexplained gaps in the narrative.”

Gusto kong ulitin yung panawagan sa Korte Suprema, lalo na kay Chief Justice [Alexander] Gesmundo, na tiyakin na mapapangalagaan yung karapatang pantao, sa ilalim ng Konstitusyon, sa ilalim ng pandaigdigang batas para sa karapatang pantao, laban sa unreasonable search and seizure,” the lawyer said as a final statement.

As they continue to seek justice for the victims of BSM, HR organizations also call for the protection of progressives and the immediate release of political prisoners.

Mas lumilinaw yung pangangailangan na palakasin pa natin yung panawagan para palayain si Nanay Nimfa, palayain lahat ng mga bilanggong politikal dito sa Pilipinas,” said John Peter Angelo Garcia, spokesperson of Youth Advocates for Peace with Justice (YAPJUST). [P]

Photos from PAMANTIK-KMU

Layout by Justine Fuentes

6 comments on “Forensic pathologist demands justice for COPLAN ASVAL victims as findings reveal they were ‘shot to be killed’

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