An independent investigation of exhumed victims of the so-called war on drugs exposes forged death certificates. Forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun (one of only two in the entire country) initiated and carries out the investigation together with activist priest Flavie Villanueva. A cemetery lease has to be renewed every five years, otherwise the mortal remains will be thrown into a mass grave. Most families are too poor to afford a lease renewal. Villanueva helps them for the exhumation and cremation of their relatives. So far, Fortun has examined the remains of 46 exhumed bodies. In seven cases, natural causes of death were listed on the death certificates, although Fortun’s autopsy concluded death due to gunshot wounds.
Rappler conducted two investigations on the background of these discrepancies. For example, relatives of the victims reported that funeral directors have pressured them to lie about the cause of death by giving them false information. The families were told that a physical autopsy would be more expensive and the procedure would be faster when the cause of death was rated natural. Also, they said that the families would be discriminated and stigmatized in their communities as relatives of victims of the so-called war on drugs. According to Rappler’s research, the falsification of the cause of death was made possible through verbal autopsies. This is because ‘the doctors were prone to being lied to because they […] rely on the testimony of the morgues and the families of victims to register the causes of death’.