TRUTH IN THE BONES
In a stark white room at the University of the Philippines, the exhumed remains of four victims of the drugs war are laid out. Beneath them are some of the pictures of the dead and the belongings they were buried with. “I never lose sight of the fact they are people,” forensic pathologist Dr Raquel Fortun says.
With a gentle smile, she admits she talks to the bones too while playing music. “I sometimes wonder if they like the music I play? Would they complain? It’s like communing with them.”
Her work could become key evidence in the ICC investigation. So far, she’s inspected the remains of 94 people since 2021 and she’s discovered big discrepancies. “The majority of the cases I see have gunshot wounds to the head and I also see them in the chest,” she says.
Dr Fortun shows 10 death certificates that state the individual died from natural causes like pneumonia or hypertension. But after examining their remains, the pathologist says it’s clear they were all shot.
Legal experts say accurate death certificates are key to families being able to take legal action against any alleged perpetrators. Dr Fortun says doctors failed to give the true cause of death and police failed to investigate. “Where’s the crime scene documentation? Where are the clothes, the witness accounts?”
A spokesperson for the Philippines’ Department of Health told Sky News it “does not have either control or supervision over the entries written by attending physicians who in their own right, and by their individual licences, have the authority to certify as to the cause of death of their patients”.
Dr Fortun’s work is unsettling, intimidating and she’s doing it for free. There are plenty of people who don’t want her litigating the past.
But she’s determined to bring closure and justice to the families of the victims.
“I never lose sight of the fact they are people”
Among them is Sarah Celiz. She weeps as she holds the urns carrying the ashes of her two sons, Almon and Dicklie – cremated after their bodies were investigated by Dr Fortun.
Six years ago, Sarah woke to the news that Almon, 32, had been shot by police during a raid on suspected drug dealers. She says a witness later told her that he was unarmed and surrendered, but police shot him anyway.
Six months later, his younger brother, Dicklie, 30, also disappeared after voluntarily getting into a police car. She says his body was found in an alleyway weeks later. The police report says officers killed him in a drug-bust, after he fired first.
She believes Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign is responsible. “He’s an animal. He has no heart, no mind, no soul. He didn’t even think about those who would be left behind.” Duterte claims security forces in the war only fired in self-defence and has vehemently and repeatedly denied claims of police death squads.