Yet another reckless police investigation

By: Joel Ruiz Butuyan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | January 11,2021 - 08:00 AM

Our country ushered in the year 2021 with the tragic death of 23-year-old flight attendant Christine Dacera right on New Year’s day itself. Dacera’s death has become tremendously heartbreaking, not because of the circumstances that led to her death which remain unclear as of this writing, but because of the reckless police actuations that ensued following her death.

Dacera checked in at a Makati City hotel on Dec. 31 with the intention of celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends. There are video footage showing that right until 6:23 a.m. on Jan. 1, she was still seen alive on the hallway of the hotel floor where she partied with friends. The statement given by her hotel room mates said that she was found lifeless in the bathtub, that efforts were made to revive her and when it proved futile she was brought to the hotel clinic, and that eventually she was rushed to a hospital where she was declared dead on arrival. There’s also a statement that her companions voluntarily went to the police station to report her death and make themselves available for investigation.

On one hand, police officers declared that there were contusions found on Dacera’s leg and knees, as well as an abrasion on her thigh. They also declared that the “victim had lacerations and sperm in her genitalia.” On the other hand, the medico-legal and autopsy report submitted by the police crime laboratory reportedly states that the “cause of death is consistent with ruptured aortic aneurysm.” The autopsy report further notes the presence of healed lacerations in her genitalia, indicating that there was no recent penetration, even as it fails to mention the presence of semen. Dacera’s death certificate also states that she died of “ruptured aortic aneurysm.”

Even with the inconsistent evidence, police authorities hastily made the conclusion that Dacera was the victim of rape with homicide. Three of Dacera’s party companions were arrested and detained, but said actions were brazenly illegal because there were no valid grounds for their arrest without a court-issued warrant. Under the law, police officers can only make a warrantless arrest of a person if the latter has committed or is about to commit a crime in their presence, or when policemen see a person running away from the scene of a crime under suspicious circumstances. None of these reasons was present.

Philippine National Police chief Debold Sinas aggravated the illegality of police actions by ordering a manhunt on eight other suspects even if there was no court-issued warrant of arrest yet. A ranking policeman went on television calling on the suspects to surrender, and horrifyingly warning them that they might suffer the fate of “nanlaban” victims if they didn’t.

Police actuations in this tragic incident have clearly exposed the overeager propensity of our policemen to consider a crime “solved” even with mere superficial evidence. There’s a glaring impatience to wait for in-depth scientific and medical evidence, as well as properly conducted investigation of witnesses, in order to find out the reasons for inconsistencies and to ferret out the truth. The police cannot fault those who accuse them that, for every crime incident, they do not run after criminals but instead chase after “accomplishments” in aid of promotion.

It is a welcome development that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation forensic medicine team to determine Dacera’s cause of death, because the “investigation by the Makati police was not thorough enough.”

It is so appalling that police authorities were so reckless in playing with the lives of 11 individuals they accused of a crime that would have meant life in prison because of the nonbailable nature of the charges.

After a thorough and exhaustive investigation is completed, we should no longer be shocked if it turns out that Christine Dacera had died of natural causes — but that crimes attended and criminals presided over the investigation that was done over her death.

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