Bloody Sunday victims ‘shot to be killed’, says forensic pathologist
By Felipa Cheng
THE NINE ACTIVISTS killed in the Bloody Sunday raids in Southern Tagalog last March were all “shot to be killed”, a forensic pathologist said in a news conference on July 7.
“All of them had shots in the chest, so they were really shot to be killed,” said Dr. Raquel Fortun of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine.
Human rights defenders consider Bloody Sunday as one of the most gruesome crackdown by state agents in recent history. The police and military served search warrants in different provinces in Calabarzon that led to 9 deaths and 6 arrests.
The nine activists killed were Manny Asuncion of Bayan-Cavite, Chai and Ariel Evangelista of Umalpas Ka, Randy and Puroy dela Cruz of Dumagat Sierra Madre, and housing rights activists Melvin Dasigao, Abner and Edward Esto, and Mark Bacasno of urban poor group Sikkad-3. Like other cases of extrajudicial killings, state forces claimed that the activists were armed and fought back the raiding team.
Fortun said that when her team received the remains of the nine activists for autopsy, they noticed that the bodies bore signs of being “altered” and had underwent prior autopsies.
“They were all received embalmed…the gunshot wounds were altered and sutured, and all but one have been autopsied. These posed a lot of challenges,” shared Fortun.
She stressed that bodies should first be examined by crime scene investigators on-site, and properly preserved as evidence before being taken to the morgue.
“Preserve the crime scene, freeze everything, bawal galawin ang bangkay,” Fortun stressed. “What happened was, patay na bangkay, kinaladkad, binuhat, dinala sa ospital. That’s crazy… Lalo na kung state forces ang involved, dapat alam nila iyan.”
Since the gunshot wounds of all nine activists were sutured and the bullets retrieved, it was difficult for the forensics team to determine the entrance and exit of the bullets, how far the assailant was from the victim, and the trajectory of the bullets.
Moreover, seven of the bodies were brought without their clothes, which could have pointed to how and where the bullets passed through the body.
Fortun said that while it is not unusual for her department to receive “altered” corpses, this practice fails the standards of crime investigation.
State forces have claimed that all nine activists resisted the arrest and fought back, or “nanlaban”, the usual narrative of state agents during deadly operations. But for this claim to be proven, Fortun stressed that there should be a clear investigation that should go beyond the autopsy findings.
As it is, two of the victims displayed clear evidence of “defense-type injuries”, she said. One victim had a big open wound on the upper arm and injuries to the finger, while another had two gunshot wounds on the lower extremities.
For Fortun, these indicate that the victims were defending themselves from assailants. They seemed to have used their arms to protect their heads, or flexed the knees to a fetal position. These circumstances, she said, make it impossible for the victims to have fought back as the police claim.
“When it comes to the question of ‘nanlaban’, it comes down to an understanding of how the shooting went,” said Fortun. Crime scene investigations, accounts of witnesses, firearms identification, and a shooting reconstruction should be conducted. For forensic pathologists, it is crucial for state forces involved in the operations to be extremely cooperative with the investigation.
However, she shared that even the request for copies of the initial autopsies from the Philippine National Police has not even been addressed. The human rights workers agreed that there was a lack of cooperation by the police.
“Walang nakukuhang sagot mula sa concerned offices,” said Casey Cruz of Bayan Southern Tagalog, adding that they have filed a petition to the Commission on Human Rights to help the families get copies of the reports.
One of the Bloody Sunday victims that the police claimed ‘nanlaban’ was Manny Asuncion, a longtime advocate of workers in the region. He served as the coordinator and spokesperson of BAYAN-Cavite.
According to witnesses, police raided at dawn the Workers Assistance Center (WAC) in Dasmariñas, Cavite where Manny and his wife Liezl were staying.
Police officers entered the compound and dragged Liezl and one other witness outside the building. Witnesses shared that the police shoved Manny to the ground, taped his mouth, and shot him multiple times.
The search warrant, issued by Manila Vice Executive Judge Jose Lorenzo dela Rosa only covered Manny’s home in Rosario, Cavite. Human rights workers said the police could not have chased Manny to the Dasmariñas office, which was more than 20 kilometers away from Rosario. Records showed that the police raided his house in Rosario at 5:40 a.m., around the same time Manny was shot dead in Dasmariñas.
According to Fortun, Asuncion’s injuries were severe. Forensic reports showed a total of 10 gunshot wounds on his body.
“He was shot several times in the chest and abdomen,” she said.” It has been difficult to identify which is entry, which is exit, where the bullets went, and so on because the wounds had already been sutured.” The three gunshot wounds to his chest were fatal, Fortun added.
Out of the 9 victims, only Manny’s case has been investigated by the Department of Justice’s Administrative Order (AO) 35 panel. The cases of the other victims have yet to be investigated.
According to Charm Maranan of DEFEND-Southern Tagalog, “Kahit na may AO 35 Task Force, mabagal pa rin ang pagtugon. It is actually not slow, there is none at all.”
More than just CALABARZON 9
Three weeks after the Bloody Sunday killings, labor leader Dandy Miguel was also gunned down in Brgy. Canlubang, Laguna. It was Dandy who worked with the victims’ families and the UP College of Medicine so that their remains would be brought to Dr. Fortun.
“Dandy Miguel was the person who was sending the bodies over to us, coordinating with the families and so on. Three weeks after, he was killed and he himself was brought to us,” Fortun shared.
“One big question: who would have wanted him killed? Dandy and everyone killed deserve a homicide investigation,” she said.
Meanwhile, groups Bayan and DEFEND-Southern Tagalog called on the AO 35 committee and the Department of Justice to expedite the investigation by ensuring the full cooperation of state forces involved in the killings.
Human rights groups and the families continue to cry for justice four months after the Bloody Sunday killings, and yet they received information that another wave of synchronized police and military raids will be conducted again on July 10 in Calabarzon.
“We call on the judiciary to pave the way for justice for the victims of these ‘death warrants’ and vigilante-style killings. The Supreme Court and judicial institutions must stop the issuance of death warrants and join in strengthening calls to uphold human rights and the best interest of Filipinos,” Bayan said in a statement.