Forensic expert laments gaps in hostages' autopsies

Posted at 08/31/10 8:58 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A forensic expert on Tuesday noted deficiencies in the post-mortem examinations of 4 of the 8 Hong Kong tourists killed in the bloody August 23 hostage crisis in Manila.

Dr. Raquel Fortun, one of the country's leading forensic pathologists, said she was dismayed by several deficiencies in the autopsy reports of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory on the 4 Chinese tourists. "It's a typical autopsy report in the Philippines, which is one-page long," she said, noting that the reports failed to answer several questions.

The PNP Crime Laboratory conducted the post-mortem examination without cadaver dissection on the bodies of Ting Chun Tse, Yeung Yee Kam, Leung Chung See and Cheuk Yan Fu as per relatives' request. Relatives of the 4 other fatalities did not allow the PNP to conduct autopsies on their deceased kin.

Forensic findings showed that 3 of the victims suffered gunshot wounds to the head. One of those shot in the head was Ting, the tour guide who has handcuffed to a steel railing inside the bus and allegedly the first to be killed by hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza.

Cheuk, 30, sustained the most number of gunshot wounds after being shot in the head, neck and torso. Official cause of death listed in the autopsy report is multiple gunshot wounds to the chest.

Leung, 14, sustained 2 gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. Three other victims also died from gunshot wounds to the neck and shoulder.

One of the victims, Tze Lam Wong, was shot in the back and the bullet pierced his lungs and ascending aorta.

‘Which ones were fatal?’

Fortun, meanwhile, said the autopsy reports did not say which of the bullet wounds that the hostages sustained caused their deaths.

"Dapat mas specific. Kasi ang tanong mo: alin doon sa mga tama niya ang ikinamatay niya? Alin iyong pinakagrabe?" she said.

She said the autopsy report should also note the condition of the victims' clothing to determine how the bullets entered the victims' bodies.

"May deskripsiyon ng damit pero walang sinasabi about tama ng bala sa damit. May deskripsyon, anong klase ang suot niya…In some cases kasi, doon napupunta ang soot.. Hindi nagta-tatooing ang body kasi naman pala merong material na nakaharang," she said.

She said investigators should establish the positions of the victims' bodies inside the bus to find out how they were shot. She added investigators made a mistake when they removed the bodies of the victims from the bus immediately after the hostage incident before Scene of the Crime Operatives could finish their work.

"Saan nakapuwesto itong mga biktimang ito doon sa bus? Kaya nga kung patay na dapat hindi mo basta-basta dinadampot ang cadaver. Kung pwede pang i-save, tulungan. Kung humihinga, of course justifiable iyon, ilabas siya. Pero kung talagang patay na, best option ay iwanan mo siya sa scene dahil ang gusto mong malaman iyong posisyon noong katawan, location niya, iyong mga objects na katabi niya associated with the body. Bago mo sila galawin dapat ido-document mo," she said.

She said the victims' bodies also showed signs of blunt force trauma, which were not caused by gunshot wounds.

"I'm curious...May gasgas at bugbog sa iba't ibang parte ng katawan. Gusto mong malaman kung ano ang significance nito bakit niya nakuha ito," she said.

Fortun said authorities did one thing right in the investigation when they brought the hijacked tourist bus to the police warehouse in Camp Bagong Diwa. She said bringing the bus to the warehouse allowed investigators to preserve the crime scene.

The forensic expert said the government must get statements from the surviving hostages to reconstruct the crime scene and get a complete picture of what happened inside the bus.

Earlier, Hong Kong's security chief said that autopsies would be performed on all 8 victims of the Manila bus hijacking which were flown to the former British colony, possibly clearing the way for an official inquest.

Ambrose Lee, the city's secretary for security, said Hong Kong's coroner had ordered the post-mortem examinations amid questions over whether the slain tourists were killed by bullets fired by the hostage-taker or police, during their bungled rescue operation on Monday. -- From an exclusive report by Maan Macapagal, ABS-CBN News