PUERTO PRINCESA CITY – A witness in the 2011 murder of broadcaster-environmentalist Dr. Gerardo Ortega was strangled inside the Quezon provincial jail in Lucena City and did not commit suicide as declared by prison officials, results of a second autopsy showed.
“He had contusions in the hands and feet. He was hit in the eye… He died of asphyxia but he did not die hanging,” Dr. Erwin Erfe, director of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) forensic lab, said in a phone interview yesterday.
Erfe revealed the same findings at a press conference at PAO headquarters in Quezon City.
Dennis Aranas, 37, who had been tagged as a lookout in Ortega’s murder, was found hanging inside his detention cell at the district jail in Lucena City in Quezon on Feb. 5. His family doubted the results of an autopsy conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation that he died of “asphyxia by hanging.”
On Sunday, PAO chief Persida Acosta told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that Aranas had bruises in the arms and legs, swelling and contusions that could indicate he was a victim of foul play.
“Have you seen someone who had undergone [fraternity] hazing rites? That’s how it looked like,” said Acosta, after a PAO forensic doctor ran a re-examination of the body on Sunday noon at Funeraria Popular in San Pablo City in Laguna.
“Clearly, he was mauled,” she said.
Acosta said Aranas’ family took pictures of the body immediately after he died. “I did not immediately show the pictures to our forensic doctor. When he stepped out of the examination room, he said he, too, saw the bruises,” she said.
Chief Superintendent Serafin Barretto Jr., director of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), questioned the PAO’s jurisdiction to examine the body.
“That’s not their job. Their role is attend to legal matters,” said Barretto, who stood by the NBI report.
Aranas was “still breathing” when he was found but died in a hospital after a few hours, he said. He said the NBI conducted the autopsy on the same day before the body was released to the family.
In Manila, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday ordered the NBI to look into Aranas’ death.
She told reporters that Aranas was provisionally admitted into the Department of Justice’s witness protection program, which meant he was still under evaluation and had not yet been fully covered by the program.
Aranas offered to become a state witness but was released from the program because of a separate case that landed him at the Lucena jail.
The alleged triggerman in the Ortega killing is facing a new murder case in Quezon province, which could land him in a similar jail facility where Aranas died under doubtful circumstances.
Marlon Recamata is being summoned for inquest proceedings in a murder case docketed as No. 10492-09 before the sala of Judge Maria May Zafranco-Redor of the Regional Trial Court in Pagbilao town in Quezon.
An Inquirer source in the Puerto Princesa police said the confessed hit man, who has been staying in the city jail for the past two years, expressed fears for his life once he is transferred to another facility.
Recamata is scared that he will suffer the same fate as Aranas, according to the source, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on behalf of the accused.
Recamata, who acts as “mayor” (cell leader) in the jail facility here, has been awaiting judgment after confessing his role as gunman in the Jan. 24, 2011, killing of Ortega, the source said. “[He] believes his safety is assured if he remains in this jail,” the source added.
Chief Supt. Abad Osit, Puerto Princesa police chief, said he had received two summons so far from Redor to bring Recamata to Lucena.
“We are asking the court to find ways so that he remains here. It is also difficult for us to put up the resources to bring him there and ensure his security,” Osit said. With reports from Jeanette Andrade and Christine O. Avendaño in Manila