The continuing search for truth and justice | Inquirer Opinion

The continuing search for truth and justice

/ 04:48 AM March 25, 2013

As we enter into Holy Week, a time for reflection, my thoughts are with the Navy personnel who, two weeks ago, were placed under arrest by virtue of a court order issued by a Manila Regional Trial Court.

Six of the personnel are still in the active service. They are: Cmdr. Reynaldo Lopez, Lieutenant Commanders Luidegar Casis, Alfrederick Alba, and Joselito Colico, and enlisted personnel Sandy Miranda and Welmenio Aquino. Four others retired from the service earlier, namely, Capt. Ricardo Ordoñez, Lt. Cmdr. Ruben Roque and Petty Officers Carlito Amoroso and Igcasan Leonor. All have been charged with the 1995 alleged murder of Ensign Philip Pestaño, a 1993 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy. Lopez belongs to PMA Class 1992 while Casis is a graduate of the US Coast Guard Academy Class 1992. Alba and Colico are members of PMA Class 1994. I understand the retired officers have different sources of commission.

Exactly one year ago in March 2012, I wrote an article “The search for truth” on the Pestaño case and I outlined the results of investigations that were carried out by government agencies as well as the findings of a private forensic examiner who had been hired by the parents of the deceased to help determine the cause of his death.


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An announcement of the arrest of individuals in criminal cases often tends to create in the mind of the public the impression of guilt on the part of those involved. In the interest of truth and fairness for the Navy personnel in the case, a dispute that has dragged on for almost 20 years and has derailed the careers of young and promising officers, let me restate the official and private findings on the matter:

National Bureau of Investigation

• On Oct. 2, 1995, Felipe Pestaño, father of Philip, requested the NBI for investigative assistance on the death of his son. Their findings: Evidence gathered so far indicates no foul play in the death of Ensign Philip Pestaño. The weight of the evidence gathered tends to support the theory of suicide.

PNP Criminal Investigation Group (CIG)

• On Feb. 24, 1997, Mr. and Mrs. Pestaño made a personal appearance before the Office of the Director CIG requesting assistance in the reinvestigation of their son’s death. The conclusion: The weight of evidence overwhelmingly supports a conclusion that Philip died from self-inflicted wounds while in the act of committing suicide on that fateful morning of Sept. 27, 1995.

• It recommended that the investigation of the case be considered closed insofar as the CIG was concerned. Copies of this investigative report should be furnished to the Philippine Navy, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, for their information and appreciation.


Senate Committee Report

• From May 5-Sept. 3, 1997, the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Committee on National Defense and Security conducted eight committee hearings including an ocular inspection of the stateroom of Ensign Pestaño. Their conclusion: Pestaño did not kill himself aboard the BRP Bacolod City and was shot elsewhere. The Senate recommended an independent reinvestigation on the circumstances surrounding the killing of Ensign Pestaño with the end in view of bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Fortun Report

• On Nov. 13, 1995, lawyer Haydee Yorac addressed a letter to Dr. Raquel del Rosario-Fortun, forensic pathologist, UP College of Medicine. The letter reads as follows: “On behalf of our client, Felipe Pestaño, we would like to request your assistance in the evaluation of the autopsy examination and related forensic tests conducted by police authorities on our client’s late son, Philip Andrew Pestaño…. Our client believes that with your assistance the truth will be revealed and justice served.”

• On Dec. 5, 1995, Fortun submitted a summary and opinion on Pestaño’s death. Part of the report reads as follows: “The cause of death is consistent with perforating handgun wound to the head. Based on available information, there is no reason or cause to call the manner of death other than suicide.”

Fortun-Tatsuno Study

• In 1997-1998, Doctor Fortun and Dr. Yoshitsugo Tatsuno, Kobe University School of Medicine, completed a study of the Pestaño case. Conclusion of their study: Analysis of information known so far indicates that the manner of death is suicide…. The preponderance of evidence does not support a theory of homicide.” Part of the study adds that “In general, suicide determination is difficult to do on the part of the death investigator. Likewise it is often not easily acceptable to the decedents (next of kin). Truthful recognition and reporting of suicide are however very important, not only to maintain accurate public records, but also in the interest of justice. Pursuing the theory of homicide without sound forensic proof could hurt innocent people.”

There were other forensic expert reports submitted on the Pestaño case. One was by an American who viewed himself as a “firearms/self-defense consultant aside from being a forensic examiner.”

Forensic pathology is a branch of pathology concerned with determining the cause of death through examination of a corpse usually during the investigation of a criminal case.

A word on Dr. Raquel Fortun. She is the first Filipino woman to become a forensic pathologist and is known as the “mother of forensic pathology in the Philippines.” She was a TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) awardee for forensic pathology in 2002 and one of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) in 2004. Although she was subpoenaed by the Senate during the Pestaño hearings, her expert testimony is nowhere to be found in the Senate Report.

The death of any human being is always a tragedy. It is also a tragedy when in the search for the truth, a possible miscarriage of justice results in careers being cut short and innocent lives destroyed.

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On a brighter note, last week, Commodore Vicente

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Buenaventura, now with the Philippine Veterans Bank, scored his fifth hole-in-one at Hole No. 8, Camp Aguinaldo Golf Course. In the company of brigadier generals, Roman Gavino Jr. and Manuel Salimbangon, he aced the Island Hole using an Adam No. 3 wood and a Srixon No. 1 golf ball. To celebrate, he leaves today on a Southeast Asian cruise with family members.

TAGS: holy week, National Bureau of Investigation, Pestaño case, Philippine navy

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