In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, Raquel Fortun whispers to the scattered human skeletal remains. She wants to know the truth about their violent deaths so that their families can receive justice.
Fortun, 60, has continued to examine the remains of some of the thousands of victims of Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war six months after the former president left office.
Fortun, one of the nation’s two only forensic pathologists, is assisting rights organizations in gathering data that might one day be used in court against police who are accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings.
“I do whisper to them even though I know they were violently killed. I do request assistance, “Fortun spoke in reference to the bones spread out on the wooden tables.
At the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, where she oversees the pathology division, Fortun works by herself in a room that has been painted white.
In close proximity to body bags and plastic boxes containing human remains, dirty clothing is piled on the ground.
A Catholic priest who assists grieving families in learning the truth about the deaths of their loved ones exhumed them from tombs.
Fortun claimed that the souls of the dead make an effort to attract her attention as she painstakingly examines the bones. She thinks they want to tell her what happened.
She said, “I would hear something falling on the floor, a very small object like a coin or a button… and of course you’d look and there’s nothing there.
It is grim and lonely work, and not without its dangers.
Fortun frequently receives death threats because of her research and Twitter tirades about the Philippine judiciary and government that frequently “ruffle feathers” of Duterte supporters.
Fortun remarked, “I’m more terrified of the living than the dead.
“Someone could simply drive next to my car at any time and shoot me. So, there is a very, very strong sense of mortality. more so right now.”
Official statistics show that more than 6,200 people died as a result of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. Rights organizations believe that the actual number was in the tens of thousands.
After Duterte’s resignation in June, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. promised to carry on the drug war but with a focus on prevention and rehabilitation.
Yet more bodies continue to appear.
Since Marcos took office, at least 150 people, according to rights organizations, have died. 46 was most recently reported by the police.
Fortun reported that she has already looked at the remains of 70 people killed under Duterte’s administration.
Eleven people had bullets lodged in their skulls or other bones, some in the wrists indicating defensive wounds.
Her findings are in direct opposition to the official death certificates, which stated that they passed away naturally.
The idea that medical examiners fabricated their reports has grown stronger as a result.
Fortun hopes that her evidence will eventually be used in a Philippine court or at the International Criminal Court, which is based in The Hague (ICC).
The ICC launched a comprehensive investigation into potential crimes against humanity committed during the drug war in 2021.
Fortun, however, is not holding her breath in hopes of that happening any time soon.
Two teenagers who were killed during the height of the crackdown were tortured by another officer, who was jailed last month.
Despite her rare expertise, Fortun claimed that authorities rarely asked her to look into unexplained or suspicious deaths.
In order to build a case, police frequently relied on witness testimony rather than forensic evidence.
The next of kin must also give their consent before an autopsy. When they are performed, the police medicolegal division or general practitioners handle them typically when the bodies are in remote areas.
According to Fortun, neither has the tools nor the training necessary for forensic pathology.
Fortun was recently called in to conduct a second autopsy on the body of a prisoner who was suspected of taking part in the high-profile murder of a journalist.
There was “no apparent sign of external physical injury,” according to the police autopsy.
Following Fortun’s discovery that he had been suffocated by a plastic bag, numerous inmates as well as the director of the prison were the targets of criminal complaints.
The plans to train more forensic pathologists have also been announced by Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla.