In the Philippines, a Doctor Unearths a Drug War’s True Toll

In the Philippines, a Doctor Unearths a Drug War’s True Toll


QUISON CITY, Philippines – Standing in a university classroom surrounded by six skeletons lying on wooden tables, Raquel Fortune held the broken skull of a man who had been killed. President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

He stuck his finger out of a hole in it.

“It sounds like an entry,” said Dr. Fortune, one of only two forensic pathologists in the Philippines. “So he got a clear gunshot wound to the head.”

Since July 2021, Dr. Fortune, 60, has been quietly examining the bones at the behest of a Catholic priest, the Rev. Flaviano Valaniova, and the victim’s family.

Dr. Fortune’s discovery made headlines in the country.

Of the 46 remnants he examined, seven were cases in which the cause of death in the death certificates was natural, although his investigation clearly revealed murder. The results, released at a news conference in April, raised questions about whether medical officials were involved in the cover-up.

Dr. Fortune’s discovery also shows that to a real extent The war on drugs It could be much more than what the government has revealed. Rights activists have long argued that the death toll – an estimated 30,000 from 2016 to date – is much higher than official figures. The Philippine National Police put the number at more than 6,200.

Prior to Dr. Fortune, there was no independent inquiry into the drug war, including many of his deaths.

In response to Dr. Fortune’s findings, the Philippine National Police said it would conduct its own investigation into the fake death certificates, although no punishment was possible. Ever since the war on drugs began, aOnly three police officers have been arrested. – For the murder of a 17 year old boy.

In a country where the justice system is weak, where extrajudicial killings are taking place, and where forensic pathology is almost non-existent, Dr. Fortune enjoys the status of a celebrity. The families of the victims either call him at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, where he heads the Department of Pathology, or find him on social media.

She is skeptical of the police statement that many suspects were killed in the drug war because they tried to fight back. She has criticized the Philippines for lacking a proper death investigation system that allows police to handle evidence, witnesses and the bodies of those killed in police shootings.

“That way you can avoid being killed easily,” he said in an interview in his office. “And here I am in my ivory tower, saying: ‘No, though, you are wrong. You have remembered it, you have remembered it.’ How do you think they feel about me? “

“They hate me,” he said with a laugh.

Dr. Fortune grew up in a family of lawyers and doctors in Quezon City. As a child, she loved to disassemble objects, to find out what’s wrong with the door handle or any part of the car. She said she was drawn to pathology, seeing it as the “backbone of medicine.”

Dr. Fortune graduated from the Medical School of the Philippines in 1987 and began his residency training in 1989 at the Philippine University College of Medicine in Anatomical and Clinical Pathology.

But it was a one-year training course at the King County Medical Examiner’s Office in Seattle in 1994 that led her to focus on forensic pathology. Dr. Fortune leaves his 4-year-old daughter, Lisa, with his father-in-law. “It was the hardest thing ever,” he said.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Richard Harf, King County’s chief medical examiner and Dr. Fortune’s former boss, said he enjoyed being her mentor because “she was not afraid of anything.”

“She was just as good as any pathologist I have trained over the years,” he said. “It basically absorbed everything, and the rotten body and skeletal remains weren’t an element at all. It just worked.”

Over the years, Dr. Harf said he “always wondered how she was killed or did not succeed in being killed.”

This is a question that Dr. Fortune has thought a lot about himself.

“Am I in danger? Should I consider going somewhere else?” Dr. Farton said in a loud voice of surprise. “It has a special effect on your psyche. You are not safe. Knowing that in the Philippines, assassins can easily get close to you, start firing and run away.”

Whatever the risks, Dr. Farton does his best to reduce his words.

She is popular on Twitter, where she tweets under the account. Doc4Dead. In 2016, he Mr Duterte’s daughter angrySarah Duterte, when asked if Ms Duterte’s announcement that she was pregnant with three children was part of a public relations campaign for her father. Ms. Duterte, who is Ready to be vice president. On June 30, Dr. Fortune called her a “bitter melon” and urged her to “shut down her Twitter.”

Dr. Fortune’s work has taken him to Cyprus, The Hague and East Timor. She would have made more money if she had been practicing medicine overseas all the time, but she said she felt it was “always a crime not to be in the Philippines where I needed to be.”

Most mornings, Dr. Fortune arrives at his makeshift lab at the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine, which he hurriedly places with the tables he has obtained from the junkyard. She works alone, sifting, slicing and sticking bones. Last month, a radiotherapy program to treat early-stage breast cancer was interrupted these mornings, after which she would go to the lab.

“When I’m in a room with all those skeletons, I think I’m giving them what they were denied before,” he said. “They have not been given a proper investigation, no proper examination. So I am trying to see what is missing.”

Many things stand out for Dr. Fortune: the victims were almost all men, the majority had head injuries, and they were the “poorest.”

He held the jawbone without teeth. “They’ve probably never seen a dentist in their lives,” he said.

Dr. Fortune works for free – she receives about ً 96 per body from Father Vlaneva to cover only material costs. With as many bodies as needed to be exhumed, he said he was “on the treadmill.”

Dr Forten said she hoped to get help from the international forensic community, but acknowledged that this was unlikely to happen if Mr Duterte left office. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., The president was elected in May.Has indicated that it will not assist in the prosecution of the ICC case and will only allow investigators to enter the Philippines as tourists.

He said it was unknown at this time what he would do after leaving the post. “What happens to anonymous, unclaimed bodies?” “Where are they?” He asked.

Dr. Fortune saves his hair and fingernails to remind himself that they were all “part of someone.” Halfway through the interview, she slipped into a shelf behind her desk and marked a clear plastic bag in which she was placing for possible DNA analysis. (“I like patella!” She cried.)

“You never lose sight of the fact that you’re dealing with someone,” he said. “Especially when you meet relatives.”

Presenting his case to the families to examine the remains of his loved ones, Father Vlanovieva, known as “Flavius”, said, “We have bones that can speak.”

“In Tagalog, we call it the bone of truth,” said Father Vlanoyeva, the founder of AJ Kalinga Foundationa A non-profit organization that is helping the relatives of the victims. “Because bones can’t lie.”

After completing her examination, Dr. Fortune shares her findings with the families. Villanueva’s father said he had seen. Many relatives embrace the ashes of their loved ones while listening to her.

Father Vlanoyeva said he knew he could consult only one person to examine the bones. He never doubted Dr. Fortune as far as his “sense of justice” was concerned, he said, and remembered his enthusiasm when he told him about his plan.

“She is demanding, she is pitying, and at least, asking us to bring her bodies,” he said.

Five years after retiring, Dr. Fortune said she sees the project as the culmination of her life’s work.

“When Father Flavi started quoting them, I felt a sense of satisfaction that I was going to use what I knew,” he said. “In the end, I will not feel so useless. I should not regret staying longer.”



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