BATANGAS CITY—The regional medico-legal officer of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) yesterday reacted sharply to criticisms over his findings on the death of a witness in the murder of broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega, saying he never said that Dennis Aranas committed suicide.
Dr. Antonio Vertido, NBI regional medico-legal officer, said statements made by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) assailing the NBI autopsy report on Aranas were “the height of irresponsibility.”
According to Vertido, what he said in his autopsy report was simply that Aranas, considered a key witness in the murder of Ortega, died of asphyxia by hanging but he never concluded that it was a case of suicide.
He said his job is just to conduct an autopsy and never to rule if a person’s death is by suicide or if foul play is involved.
“Never in my tenure as a medico-legal officer for 20 years that I gave a conclusion that the victim took his own life or was killed,” he said.
Vertido said he ruled the cause of death to be asphyxia by hanging because the ligature marks on Aranas’ neck were vertical, not horizontal which would have indicated that Aranas was strangled.
Aranas acted as a lookout for the team that murdered Ortega in Puerto Princesa City on Jan. 24, 2011. Former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, have been tagged as masterminds in the killing of Ortega, who has been trying to expose the plunder of revenue from the Malampaya gas field allegedly by the former governor.
Vertido conducted the autopsy on Aranas on Feb. 6, the day after Aranas was found dead inside a cell of the Quezon provincial jail. Aranas’ relatives, however, refused to believe jail officials’ tale that Aranas killed himself and sought help.
A PAO team, led by Dr. Erwin Erfe, conducted a separate autopsy and found bruises, strangulation marks and other signs of foul play.
The PAO report sharply contradicted the NBI report, prompting authorities including Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to express disbelief at the jail officials’ story that Aranas killed himself.
Lawyer Constantino Joson, NBI director for Calabarzon, said the NBI did not say Aranas committed suicide.
“We never said in our report that it was suicide or he was killed,” said Joson. “Only an investigating body can determine that,” said the regional head of the National Bureau of Investigation.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, former election lawyer of Joel Reyes, also cited the NBI report in her interviews with reporters recently.