Finding truth about unclaimed Bilibid cadavers proving uneasy
Of the more than a hundred unclaimed cadavers from New Bilibid Prison (NBP) stored in its sole accredited funeral home, only 50 were deemed suitable for autopsy, according to forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun.
On Saturday, Fortun was accompanied by officials of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and by members of the press, as she visited Eastern Funeral Services in Muntinlupa City—NBP’s only accredited mortuary—to undertake an initial inspection of 166 corpses remaining in Eastern Funeral’s morgue since December last year.
“Of the remains, only 50 are likely suitable for examination. Among these were the most recent bodies transferred here,” she told reporters afterward.
As for the other 116 cadavers, they were already “mummified,” she said, explaining that those bodies “were too dried up already” and had shriveled like mummies.
“I doubt if we could still see something there,” Fortun said.
But she stopped short of making a definite conclusion, saying that “in forensic work, we try. We don’t choose the condition of the remains [we examine].”
She noted further that there was still a lot to fix in the medicolegal investigation system in the country.
“Persons deprived of liberty in life, deprived of dignity in death. Pilipinas, surely we can do better,” Fortun later posted on Twitter after her inspection.
She said the cadavers will be “cramped in a small room.”
The autopsy on the 50 cadavers will be conducted at the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine in Manila.
Fortun said the procedure may begin this week, but could take a month.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla had requested that autopsy, in the wake of developments following the Oct. 3 murder of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa—notably the death of an inmate who allegedly acted as a middleman in that crime.
On Oct. 29, Fortun disclosed her autopsy on that inmate, Cristito “Jun Villamor” Palaña, which concluded that he died of asphyxia due to plastic bag suffocation.
In the course of that examination at Eastern Funeral, DOJ investigators who also took part in the procedure discovered that there were more than a hundred bodies stored in that funeral home since December last year, without ever being autopsied.
Charlie Bucani, manager of Eastern Funeral, said on Tuesday that there were about 170 bodies kept there.
Ten of those cadavers were already in a decomposing state and were buried on Wednesday at NBP’s cemetery grounds.
Possibility of foul play
Regarding the bodies due to be examined, Remulla said he wanted, in particular, the causes of death indicated on the death certificates of those inmates cross-checked with Fortun’s findings.
According to the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), most of them died of any of the following indicated causes: acute myocardial infarction or heart attack, cardiorespiratory arrest or sudden loss of breathing and heart function, cardiovascular accident or stroke, and pneumonia.
One inmate was identified as a suicide.
Fortun does not dismiss the possibility of foul play in some deaths.
“You won’t expect an inmate to die while inside prison, especially if they are still healthy and young,” she said.
Such was the case of Palaña, whom BuCor had earlier claimed in its findings to have died of natural causes—until the second autopsy conducted by Fortun indicated homicide.
DOJ spokesperson Mico Clavano said the agency may pursue legal actions, depending on the results of the upcoming autopsy.
“The situation of the inmates in NBP is alarming. That’s why we are here to address these problems. We are currently discussing possible changes in the BuCor’s policy,” he said. INQ
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