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True justice for Christine

Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer / January 09, 2021

By this time, Christine Dacera would have made her final journey home to her family in General Santos City (her interment is set for tomorrow, Jan. 10). But the questions around her death in a Makati hotel on New Year’s Day remain unanswered and, indeed, disturbing.

This despite the declaration by Makati police, back-stopped and gleefully announced by no less than Philippine National Police chief Debold Sinas, that the case was “closed” after the arrest of three male friends of Christine who celebrated New Year’s Eve with her in the same hotel room where she was found. With what seems like unseemly haste, Sinas also declared that Christine had been raped, based on bruises found on her body, and on other findings that, Sinas said on Jan. 6, he could not reveal at the time. He immediately ordered the arrest of all the other men who took part in the New Year’s celebration after the Makati police filed a “provisional charge” of rape with homicide against them. Sinas even went so far as to demand that the men surrender within 72 hours or, he said, “we will hunt you down using force if necessary”—even if no warrant has been issued against them.

The official cause of death as listed in the autopsy report was ruptured aortic aneurysm, which independent forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun said raises suspicions because it very rarely occurs in persons as young as Dacera, who was 23. Whatever, it is now too late to know for sure if indeed the PAL Express flight attendant died of natural causes, since Christine’s body was reportedly embalmed before the autopsy. This, noted Fortun, has made it impossible to gather further information on the real cause of death, including whether Dacera was indeed violated before her death.

Subsequent developments prove that the Makati police’s and Sinas’ action and celebration were indeed premature, based on sloppy procedures and quick conjecture. National Capital Region Police Office chief Vicente Danao admitted on Thursday that the arrest of three of Christine’s friends was based on insufficient evidence, comparing it to an unripe mango (“hilaw pa”).

Makati Assistant City Prosecutor Joan Bolina Santillan said as much when she ordered the release of the three friends in police custody and also directed the police to gather more evidence. She noted that the Makati cops failed to establish exactly how Dacera died, much less if she was killed or violated beforehand.

It isn’t just the Makati police and the PNP leadership who now sport red faces after their knee-jerk conclusions. Netizens who seemingly rushed to judgment on Christine, citing her supposedly errant behavior in going on a drinking spree with a group of male friends, even if all of them are said to be members of the LGBTQ community, are now taking back their harsh words. Many commenters who used her death as a platform to sound off on “rape culture” have apologized, citing the initial reports mainly quoting the police version of events on Christine’s passing. Truly, while victim-blaming, which so many bystanders engaged in following news of Christine’s fate, is reprehensible, so is rushing to pin the blame on people without evidence.

Much of the noise on social media and mainstream media can be traced back to the careless statements made by law enforcement officials, and more deplorably, to their shoddy investigative work and disregard for proper procedures and diligent sleuthing. Of course, who would not want and demand “Justice for Christine”? But neither should the public—especially Christine’s grieving family—be handed justice pursued with careless abandon and deception. Especially if that “justice” is merely an attempt by the police establishment to burnish its badly battered image after a series of embarrassments and scandals.

It’s not out of place, too, to remind the PNP that Christine’s death, while certainly worthy of attention and quick justice, is but one of many cases crying out for resolution. There have been thousands of killings of suspects as part of the war on drugs, and hundreds more killings of human rights lawyers, activists, community organizers, even government officials, all over the country. Still fresh in the public’s mind is one of the most glaring examples of police impunity: The double killing of mother-and-son Sonya and Frank Gregorio in broad daylight and in full view of witnesses, by police Staff Sergeant Jonel Nuezca in Tarlac shortly before Christmas—the outrage over which the police now seem intent to distract by latching on to the most lurid and sensational suspicions in Christine’s case and feigning extraordinary efficiency by declaring it “case closed” in a jiffy.

The PNP has plenty on its plate, not least of which is restoring its public standing as a bulwark of protection and service to the Filipino people. But slapdash, negligent operations and loose-lipped declarations are not the way to go.#

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