PNP blames COVID-19 guidelines for decision to embalm Dacera cadaver before autopsy
Photo lifted from Christine Dacera's Instagram account.

PNP blames COVID-19 guidelines for decision to embalm Dacera cadaver before autopsy

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - January 26, 2021 - 12:27pm

MANILA, Philippines — It was newly-crafted investigation guidelines under the coronavirus pandemic that caused medico-legal officers to embalm the body of a flight attendant before a proper autopsy had been conducted, the national police said Tuesday. 

To recall, the Philippine National Police has since admitted to lapses in its investigation of the death of Christine Dacera, whose unconscious body was found in a hotel bathtub the morning after a New Year's Eve party. The National Bureau of Investigation has also launched its own probe into the matter. 

READ: What we know so far: Death of flight attendant Christine Dacera | PNP admits lapses in Dacera case

Speaking at the Tuesday morning hearing of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, Police Maj. Gen. Marni Marcos, who serves as the chief of the PNP's Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management, pointed to "new normal" guidelines in investigations under the coronavirus pandemic. 

"We had new guidelines that were formed because of the pandemic. As for the reason of the medico-legal, it was stated in the new guidelines for the new normal on the autopsy of cadavers. Initially, he said that the victim had travel in other places. She came from a hotel that was a quarantine hotel," he said in mixed Filipino and English. 

"So under the new procedures, he conducted what we call soft embalming. We're still investigating if there were new procedures he wasn't able to do," he also said. 

Weeks after news of Dacera's death first broke, much is yet unclear about the circumstances of her tragic passing

What do the PNP's guidelines say?

According to the PNP Investigator's Handbook for New Normal, a document dated June 4, 2020, in the event that the victim is considered to be a suspected, probable or confirmed coronavirus case with the "obvious absence of a violent death indicator," no Scene of Crime Operation or SOCO will be necessary.

"The need for information as to the health status prior to death is necessary as this shall be the basis for further actions on the part of the SOCO and the medico-legal," it reads. 

To recall, the City Garden Grand Hotel in Makati City, the hotel where Dacera's body was found, had its tourism accreditation revoked by the Department of Tourism after it "was found to have misrepresented itself to the public as being allowed to accommodate guests for leisure or staycation purposes despite being a quarantine facility.”

RELATED: DOT to suspend accreditation of Makati hotel where Dacera died

“This is to reiterate that AEs repurposed as quarantine facilities cannot offer their rooms and facilities for leisure purposes. At the same time, staycation hotels shall not be used for quarantine,” the department said.

Furthermore, the PNP handbook also reads in Section 3:

Autopsy procedure may be waived, and a postmortem certificate may be issued in its place. However, if the family and/or [Investigator-on-Case] decides to pursue the procedure, the cadaver shall be embalmed first and the conduct of the autopsy shall be done after 5 hours. 

In an earlier interview aired over CNN Philippines, Police Brig. Gen. Brandi Usana, the PNP's spokesperson, said that the initial declaration by Makati City police that Dacera had seminal fluid in her genitals, a possible indication she was raped, could no longer be established.

“This may have been destroyed at the time when the embalming happened,” Usana said. 

At a press conference held by the Dacera family, Paolo Tuliao, the family's legal counsel said that the family was unsatisfied with the initial report and had requested another autopsy. "We are disputing the findings that the death was caused by the aneurysm. They didn't cite the bruises found on her. We are seeking another post-mortem report from another medico," he said. 

A briefer by American Forensics says that while autopsies can still be performed after a body has been embalmed, "for the best outcome, an autopsy should be performed on an un-embalmed body after proper refrigeration. If there is a long delay (beyond one week) between the time of death and the autopsy, embalming is recommended to preserve the body tissues. Embalming interferes with most of the toxicology studies."

'Logic says what you did was wrong'

For his part, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, himself a former chief of police who presided over the hearing on Tuesday, castigated the investigation chief for the national police's lapses in its probe of the high profile case. 

"I hope this doesn't happen again, especially with celebrated cases like this. This shouldn't happen again. You can just imagine, why did they embalm the cadaver before conducting the autopsy? That's a big question. Even if you aren't an expert, it's obvious that if you embalm, the body of the crime is contaminated," he said in Filipino. 

"That's basic. It's only right for you to file cases against those involved because it's shameful what they did. We are trying to professionalize the PNP...logic will tell you that whatever your defense, what you did is wrong."

In the days following the killing, Police Gen. Debold Sinas, PNP chief, tagged the case as "solved" and asserted in a press briefing that he still believes the death was a rape-slay, citing evidence he claimed the PNP could not yet share.

"With regard to the Dacera case, SITG was informed by the NCRPO, and no less than the CPNP directed also the DIDM to conduct an investigation on whether there were lapses in the conduct of the investigation," Marcos also said at the hearing. 

"The chief of police of the Makati City police office was already relieved. With the two investigators and also the medico-legal officer, [they] were also pre-charged for possible lapses in the investigation."

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