The alliance of a priest and a coroner against Duterte’s drug war

The alliance of a priest and a coroner against Duterte’s drug war

A priest and a forensic doctor have teamed up to publish the only independent investigation that has managed to shed some light on the dark and bloody war on drugs in the Philippines, declared by the president, Rodrigo Duterte , who has one month left in office.

The investigations of Father Flavie Villanueva and Dr. Raquel Fortun have revealed the existence of false medical certificates to hide deaths by gunshots and the execution of young people who had nothing to do with drugs during this war that Duterte made his flagship and that It has cost the lives of between 27,000 and 30,000 people, according to various NGOs.

Initiatives such as those of Villanueva and Fortun have become the only possibility of clarifying the facts in the face of Duterte’s obstructionism, who has vetoed an investigation by the International Criminal Court, a situation that is not expected to change when “Bongbong” Marcos takes office. presidency on June 30.

“I realized right away that this war was attacking mainly the poor,” the 53-year-old priest Flavie Villanueva, who decided to help the families of the victims as part of several assistance programs for the poorest in the country, told Efe. the slums of the Philippines.

When the priest began his programs in 2016, Duterte had just won the presidential elections driven by his promise to end the drug problem and encouraged citizens and police to “liquidate” the traffickers, which resulted in dozens of corpses that they appeared riddled with bullets every morning in the humblest neighborhoods of Manila.

Given the flagrant impunity and the lack of investigation of the majority of executions in these police operations, which Duterte continues to encourage in his last days as head of the Government, Villanueva and the renowned forensic doctor Raquel Fortun forged an alliance to clarify some of the deaths.

In almost six years, Father Flavie has offered psychological, bureaucratic and economic assistance to 253 families through his AJ Kalinga foundation, since sometimes the murdered person was a father of a family who left his children orphaned and without any recourse.

“Father Flavie helped us when no one wanted to help us,” says between sobs Corazón Molina, whose son Raffy Molina was killed at the age of 24 in July 2016 in a police operation.


The alliance between the priest and the coroner arose from a sinister surprise faced by the relatives of the victims: after five years in a provisional grave, the bodies of the deceased are buried in a common grave if the family does not pay an amount. which can go up to a thousand dollars, an amount that represents your income for several months.

“I promised that no body was going to be dumped in a mass grave. Starting last year, we received a wave of relatives of those who died in 2016,” explains the priest.

When he decides to seek funds to exhume the bodies and give them a decent burial, he also takes the opportunity to try to resolve the doubts generated by the police reports on the deaths and contacts one of the only two forensic pathology doctors in the Philippines, Dr. Raquel Fortun.

“I met Father Flavie at various meetings and agreed to help him. Our agreement was to say publicly that the bodies were simply exhumed and cremated,” Dr. Fortun told Efe from her office at the University of the Philippines, who felt compelled to act when she saw that “someone with the mentality of a murderer” had taken the reins. from the country.

The expert immediately discovered that some death certificates signed by doctors were false, and that the families were pressured to sign a document giving up investigating the case to avoid legal proceedings.


In April, after months of discreet work, Flavie and Fortun presented the results to the press: of the 46 bodies that the priest exhumed and sent to the doctor for forensic analysis, seven presented evidence of having been riddled with bullets, while their death certificates documented natural death from asphyxiation or pneumonia.

For Fortun, “these doctors risk their reputation and their name” by deliberately falsifying reports, and they are “a key player” in extrajudicial murders, a state-orchestrated massacre that the coroner defines as a “purge of the undesirable, those who They can’t defend themselves.”

The doctor continues to investigate, without receiving remuneration or aid for it and despite the pressure she has received since her work was made public. She does not even receive help from her students, who are wary of getting involved in her investigations for fear of possible reprisals.

For his part, Father Flavie has examined the cases of 200 of the 253 families he has helped since he began his programs in 2016, and has concluded that 70 of them (more than a third) had nothing to do with illegal substances.

“Duterte’s war ended my brother’s life, they didn’t give him a chance to rehabilitate. He didn’t hurt anyone, ”says Mary Jane Sardino at the Kalinga Foundation.

According to the priest, the gunmen who carried out the “cleansing operations” in the poor neighborhoods of Manila often used a “head swap: they offered the victim “to die or continue living”, in exchange for the payment of a “self ransom”. and to point to another person with whom to exchange your name.

Accused of sedition for his criticism of the anti-drug campaign, Flavie remains determined to seek funds to continue the investigation and to prevent the victims from succumbing to eternal anonymity in a mass grave.

Melissa Galbraith
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.