war on drugs

SOCO chief agrees with Fortun: Drug war death records ‘faked’

Rambo Talabong
SOCO chief agrees with Fortun: Drug war death records ‘faked’

POLICE EXPERT. SOCO chief Colonel Joseph Palmero in his office in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Rambo Talabong/Rappler

EXCLUSIVE: SOCO chief Colonel Joseph Palmero says at least 3 death certificates of drug war victims were faked, but adds that the signing doctors may have been misinformed

The chief of the Scene of Crime Operations (SOCO) division of the Philippine National Police (PNP) agrees with the findings of forensic expert Raquel Fortun: some drug war death certificates were faked.

In an interview with Rappler on Thursday, April 14, SOCO chief Colonel Joseph Palmero said all the three cases that Rappler investigated appeared to be faked.

“The death certificate is wrong. We can say it is faked. The problem is that in the first place…those should have been autopsied because that is a medico-legal case,” Palmero told Rappler, after being shown portions of the records.

In a two-part investigation, Rappler found 3 families whose kin were tagged as drug suspects and then killed by vigilantes in 2016, the first year of President Rodrigo Duterte. The families were forced to lie about the causes of death of their family members after being told by funeral parlors they would save money and avoid harassment if they did so.

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After redoing the autopsy of some 46 exhumed remains of drug war victims, the three were among the seven remains that Fortun found to have what appeared to be forged death certificates. The death certificates of the seven indicated they died from natural causes, but Fortun found bullet holes in their remains.

Rappler also found that through verbal autopsy – where doctors relied on family members and informants to determine the cause of death of a deceased without inspecting the body – doctors could have been misinformed by the funeral parlors and families of the victims.

SOCO chief Palmero suspected the same. “The issue there is maybe the information was withheld,” Palmero said.

While the faked death certificate could compromise the case in court, former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te explained that the police should still pursue an investigation.

“Murder is a felony that does not need a complainant; law enforcement can file the cases even without a complaint by the families for so long as they have the evidence. Prosecutors know that, that’s criminal law 101,” Te told Rappler in a text message on Wednesday, April 13.

The PNP earlier announced that it will investigate the faked death certificates, while the Department of Justice said the issue of faked, and even missing, certificates in the death of drug suspects is under their drug war review.

SOCO chief agrees with Fortun: Drug war death records ‘faked’

– Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.