A Step Towards Justice: Media Report “Drug War” Victim’s Corrected Cause of Death Certificate

CHEERS TO reports which called attention to the need for truth and accuracy in the documentation of deaths involved in Rodrigo Duterte’s “drug war.” Going back to the falsification of a death certificate of a drug war casualty in 2016, these news accounts confirmed that official documents are not necessarily factual. 

ANC’s Rundown, ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol, TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas and Rappler reported a huge breakthrough in Lenin Baylon’s case. A nine-year old from Caloocan City, Baylon was killed by a stray bullet on December 2, 2016, when armed men on motorcycles stormed the computer shop where he happened to be at the time. The gunmen targeted two women suspected of using drugs. 

The funeral parlor which held Baylon’s remains asked the victim’s family to pay PHP 16,000 for an autopsy to establish that the gunshot was the cause of death.  

According to Rodrigo Baylon, Lenin’s father, the funeral home and the Caloocan police urged them to sign a waiver to forego the autopsy because they did not have the money to pay for it. The Baylons agreed with the funeral home that “bronchopneumonia” be listed as the cause of Lenin’s death. 

However, later in 2019, they decided to take legal action to establish the actual circumstances of how Lenin died. A lawyer of the human rights group Initiatives, Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) served as their legal counsel. Three years later, the Baylons got hold of a death certificate that correctly states that the child died of a gunshot wound.

On December 7, ANC’s Mike Navallo interviewed Francis Mangrobang, a legal officer of IDEALS, who talked about the significance of the case. He pointed out that accuracy in official documents is necessary not only for “drug war” victims, but for everyone else. 

According to him, documents, including death certificates, are vital statistics for the government. Falsification of information distorts the data on which official decisions are based.  Such information affects the decision-making process of government and how officials respond to a given issue. Mangrobang stressed that all parties involved – the funeral home, doctors who signed his death certificate, and police officers who urged the Baylons to sign a waiver, will be dealt with in accordance with the law. 

TV Patrol’s December 7 report cited Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla’s assurance that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently investigating nine other cases of inaccurate death certificates. The report also referred to findings by forensics pathologist Dr. Racquel Fortun, who worked with the local church program Paghilom in examining the exhumed remains of “drug war” victims. Dr. Fortun said that she found that seven out of 46 remains had died of a gunshot. But the death certificates did not indicate this fact.

In Frontline Pilipinas’ December 7 report, Mon Gualvez cited Reutersinvestigative report last June stating that 15 “drug war” victims died due to natural causes (e.g., pneumonia, sepsis, hypertension) based on their death certificates. 

In the same report, the senior lawyer and human rights consultant of IDEALS recommended the establishment of a “truth commission” to enforce the accountability of officials who colluded in the falsification of information in official documents. He also said the Philippines should rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC). The report said the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has created a litigation unit to handle cases similar to Baylon’s. 

The correction may be a “small victory” for Lenin’s father, but Rappler’s Rambo Talabong sees the development as a landmark case that indicates real possibilities for gaining justice for the families of the Duterte regime’s “drug war” victims. 

In his December 5 report, Talabong argued that Baylon’s is the first “drug war” death certificate to be corrected, setting a precedent for other families who were forced to accept the deception about the cause of their kin’s death. 

How many more cases are in this pattern of lies? The public has the right to know. The media have a crucial role to play in the search for answers. Journalists have the tools to investigate and interrogate the process of data collection. They must be ready to do their part and expose the lies disguised as official truth by these documents.