Autopsy rules out possible suicide of witness of a journalist killing

CMFR/Philippines – The autopsy of the body of a witness in the killing of a freelance journalist released 11 February 2013 concluded that there was foul play, ruling out the initial claim that he committed suicide.

Dennis Aranas was found dead in his jail cell in Lucena City, Quezon province (about 130 kilometers south of Manila) last 5 February 2013. He was hanging by his neck from a bag strap, according to a report by the Philippine Star. Aranas’ relatives reported the incident to the police hours later. Jail guards claimed that it was suicide.

A copy of the autopsy performed by the Public Attorney’s Office was sent to CMFR. It found that Aranas had multiple physical injuries and concluded that he was strangled to death.

Aranas was the admitted lookout in the murder of Gerardo Ortega, a freelance journalist and environmentalist who exposed the misuse of revenues from a natural gas project in the province of Palawan (about 800 kilometers south of Manila).

A report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer said that Aranas’ wife, Marilyn, said  her husband was taken out of the  Department of Justice Witness Protection Program (WPP) when murder charges unrelated to the Ortega case were filed against him in Quezon.

GMA News quoted justice secretary Leila De Lima as confirming Aranas’ exclusion from the WPP, “When the case was being evaluated, Mr. Aranas was not approved for regular admission (to the WPP) because there was a certification of non-materiality (of his testimony) by the handling prosecutors, (a requisite for inclusion in the WPP).”

The Ortega family sent CMFR the copy of Aranas’ autopsy and said in an official statement that the family is demanding a full-blown investigation from the government.

In a phone interview with CMFR, a representative from the Quezon provincial jail said that concerned personnel could not comment on the matter as they are still being probed by the National Bureau of Investigation.

Aranas is the second witness in the Ortega case to die. Manila Times reported that witness Valentin Lecias, the buyer of the gun used to kill Ortega, died of liver disease in September 2012.