Seares: Amid PNP, NBI scramble, PAO casts light

News Sense

A ROUGH timeline on the Christine Lee Silawan murder may be something like this:

[1] Lapu-Lapu PNP initiated and led the investigation as the Grade 9 student’s mutilated body was found in Bangkal, Lapu-Lapu City.

[2] Mindanao PNP joined the case. A laborer, wanted for another murder, was person of interest then converted into a primary suspect by Davao police and Manila central office. He turned out to be the wrong guy.

[3] The NBI climbed aboard, then upstaged the police by arresting a teenaged suspect, charging him with the prosecutor’s office. NBI’s case started to look weak when the public learned that all it had was circumstantial evidence, magnified by the fiscal’s order of release based on wrongful arrest.

[4] PAO made a parallel inquiry, conducted its own autopsy and now seems to be stealing the limelight from the NBI with the release of its findings.

What PAO clarifies

The forensic arm of PAO or Public Attorney’s Office did a second autopsy last March 22, just before the victim was buried. A first autopsy was conducted by the PNP but it merely had “initial” findings which were supposed to be followed up by laboratory tests in Manila. PAO’s conclusions, released this week, are decidedly more authoritative.

PAO may have beaten them to the task of lifting the curtain on still darkened parts of the stage of the high-profile crime. Supt. Benjamin Lara, PNP medico-legal chief, didn’t bring as much light as Dr. Erwin Erfe, PAO forensic arm chief, did on these specific, once-gray areas:

 RAPE. Lara, through city police chief Limuel Obon and by himself in media interviews, said there was no rape. No fresh laceration on the girl’s vagina, Lara plainly ruled, just an old one which was already healed. It indicated a previous experience, not necessarily sexual, but no rape.

Erfe found “extensive and massive abrasions on the outer folds of the vagina” and lacerations and swellings due to blood clots inside her private parts, “indicating forcible penetration.” And the injuries, contrary to Lara’s finding, were fresh, about six hours before death.

Police had not ruled out sex on the night of the murder but its test on seminal fluid collected from the body and material from the mother for DNA testing still are not released.

* GANG ASSAULT, KILLING. Erfe could not tell the number of sex violations on Christine’s body or how many persons did it but he said the killing involved at least three, based on the body wounds. She was strangled with a rope, indicated by a right-hand print on the left side of her neck. Deep rope marks on the wrists showed she was tied and struggled to free herself.

* SKINNING. The disfigurement was not caused by the skinning of the face, which Lara already theorized and Erfe confirmed. Sulfuric acid, Erfe said, poured twice, had caused it. That aspect of the killing was important as it made the assault more gruesome, fueling hate among the public.

To be sure, PAO findings are not yet conclusive. The lab tests conducted by PNP may lead to that yet. But police have been taking its time, with the public impatience reinforcing the long-time clamor for state-of the-art forensic facilities in the region.

PAO’s mission

Last March 21, 10 days after Christine’s corpse was found on that vacant Bangkal lot, NBI regional chief Tomas Enrile complained of the inquiry being conducted by PAO, “What was its mandate?”

PAO, an independent and autonomous body attached to the Department of Justice, basically renders legal services, counseling and assistance to indigents: “the oppressed, marginalized and underprivileged.” That covers a lot of people in the private and public sector, including police officers who are sued in relation to their work.

At times, in court while defending an indigent accused, PAO takes the side opposite the prosecutors and law enforcers. But in this high-profile case, PAO and the law enforcers are on the same side. Its client is Christine’s mother and the suspects may have to look for lawyers elsewhere.

What it must be about

PAO and the law enforcers are on same team in the Christine murder. So it must be about who’s getting the credit or recognition, to which office the honor is going.

But each agency has its boundaries. That shouldn’t be too hard to watch out for, even amid the glare of public attention and adulation.

PAO looks as if it were grabbing the credit that should go to the NBI and the police. And some critics, online, have been mean to PAO. But PAO definitely earned public appreciation on its autopsy results.


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