Belongings of victims accurately recorded
Cash bills wrapped in plastic turned up in the oil-soaked clothes of a woman, one of the fatalities of the sunken MV St. Thomas Aquinas.
The clothes were being washed by Charles Tubio, a criminology intern, one of 76 assigned since Tuesday to help in the ongoing victim identification process at the Cosmopolitan Funeral Homes.
Tubio turned over the bills, which ran to several thousand pesos, to the head of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO).
“I pity the victim who died,” the intern told Cebu Daily News, when asked about the discovery.
He said the woman, who remains unidentified, reminded him of a student who travels at sea bringing her tuition fee money in her pocket.
The clothes or any jewelry, personal effects or even body tattoos or scars are sometimes the only clues to the identity of unclaimed bodies recovered at sea after the Aug. 16 sea tragedy.
Senior Supt. Nestor Sator, regional chief of the PNP Crime Laboratory, said each item is documented and safeguarded.
When a cadaver is brought to the funeral home, crime lab personnel tag the body, place the human remains in a body bag which is also tagged, and take photographs. Another tag is placed on on the plastic bag holding the belongings of the victim – apparel, gadgets, jewelry, etc.
All items are documented in the presence of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) and Cosmopolitan staff before they are turned over to the evidence custodian.
Sator said fingerprint and dental examination are made as the main source of information in the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) process.
DNA testing is used as a last resort if families are unable to produce dental records of their loved ones or fingerprint records from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) or police clearances .
The student interns who help out belong to the graduating class. Part of their duties is to tape numbers on the hands of cadavers so the victims can be easily located once they are identified by the families.
The bodies are bloated and face features are unrecognizable after days in the water.
“We pray before we head to work for the eternal rest of their souls,” said one of the interns.
Intern Concepcion Avenido said that last Tuesday, after she helped SOCO, she skipped lunch and dinner and she could hardly sleep at night.
“After the hands-on experience, we had a hard time eating our meals because the smell of the dead clings to our nostrils and body,” she said.
Nevertheless, the interns said the experience makes them count their blessing that their own families are safe.
Last Tuesday, SOCO allowed the public viewing of a slideshow of photos of the recovered victims and their belongings in the lobby of the funeral home to speed up identification of the victims by their families.
However, this was stopped on Thursday after the Department of Health advised that it was traumatic for the families to see deformed faces and bodies of their kin.
With this, Chief Inspector Benjamin Lara of the PNP Crime Laboratory -7, changed the procedure and showed only personal belongings of the victims like clothing one by one to the families.
“We stopped the viewing because it adds to the families’ trauma. Viewing only prolongs their agony,” Lara said.
This time, staff conduct interviews and ask families to describe in detail their missing loved one as well as their belongings to avoid spurious claimants.
DNA tests are done in Camp Crame in Metro Manila and would take months.
“The relatives should understand the sheer volume of the specimens taken from the victims and the sheer volume of specimens taken from the relatives. Take note, there are more than 80 relatives who are looking for their missing loved ones,” Lara said.
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