Photo by the Medical Action Group (MAG)

by Hon. Jose Midas P. Marquez
Court Administrator
Chief, Public Information Office

(Note from the Blogger:  This article was delivered  by the author at the Media Launch of the Medical Action Group Project at the Citrine Emerald Room Function Hall, Diamond Hotel, Roxas Boulevard, Manila on 06 August 2011.  It is uploaded in this page as a possible mechanism for the protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).)

A pleasant morning to everyone.
 
Last December 2008, I spoke before your organization on the importance of medical documentation in relation to the case of the Manalo brothers, which is the first decision of the Supreme Court on the application of the Writ of Amparo, an extraordinary remedy promulgated by the Court available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated, or threatened with violation. Today, barely three years after, I am proud to say that the Supreme Court has not wavered in its quest in protecting and defending human rights, and has consistently issued resolutions which can be considered as triumphs in such mission.

The plight of missing political activist Jonas Joseph T. Burgos falls under this mission.  It was on 28 April 2007 when Jonas was abducted by several unidentified men while he was eating lunch at a restaurant in Ever Gotesco Mall, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City. Eyewitnesses, including the restaurant’s employees, claim that Jonas was dragged into a van whose license plates were later traced to another vehicle impounded by the military in Bulacan. Up to now, the whereabouts of Jonas are unknown. Just last month, however the Court ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to produce Jonas, and to show cause why he should not be released from detention.[1]

Two months ago, the Court also ordered the AFP to release University of the Philippines (UP) student activists Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, and farmer Manuel Merino, who have been missing for nearly five years and were allegedly abducted by armed men, and said that retired General Jovito Palparan and five others “appear responsible and accountable” for their disappearance.[2] The High Tribunal emphasized its order by putting the words “immediate release” in capital letters in its ruling.

The High Court added that its decision is final and executory, and thus, there is no need to file any motion for the execution of its decision. The Court said that “since the right to life, liberty and security of a person is at stake, the proceedings should not be delayed and execution of any decision thereon must be expedited as soon as possible since any form of delay even for a day may jeopardize the very rights that these writs seek to immediately protect.”

And late last year, the High Court ordered the CHR to conduct further investigation on Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas’s alleged abduction and torture by the military in 1999. Roxas alleged that she and companions Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Jandoc were resting in the house of one Mr. Jesus Paolo in Sitio Bagong Sikat, Barangay Kapanikian, La Paz, Tarlac when 15 heavily armed men barged in, ganged them up, blindfolded, and dragged them to a waiting van. She claimed that she was later taken to the military camp of Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija where she was allegedly interrogated and tortured on suspicion of being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.

In this case of Roxas v. Arroyo,[3] the Court specifically tasked the CHR to identify the persons described in the cartographic sketches submitted by Roxas as well as their whereabouts, and to pursue any other leads relevant to her abduction and torture.

The Roxas case likewise brings me to another equally consequential point, and that is the importance of effective medical documentation in successfully prosecuting amparo cases, and other cases against violations of human rights. One of the documentary exhibits admitted in this case is the medical certificate of Roxas, which was executed right after she was freed.

The public respondents, who were mostly military officials, cited the medical certificate as actually belying her claims that she was subjected to serious torture for five (5) days. They noted that while Roxas alleges that she was choked and boxed by her abductors—inflictions that could have easily produced remarkable bruises—her medical certificate only shows abrasions in her wrists and knee caps. However, the Appellate Court disregarded the argument of the public respondents, and stressed that the medical certificate of Roxas can only affirm the existence of a true abduction, as its findings are reflective of the very injuries the latter claims to have sustained during her harrowing ordeal, particularly when she was handcuffed and then dragged by her abductors onto their van.[4]

Thus, in its decision, the CA gave due weight and consideration to Roxas’s version that she was indeed abducted and then subjected to torture. The CA noted the sincerity and resolve by which Roxas affirmed the contents of her affidavits in open court, and was thereby convinced that the latter was telling the truth.

Such findings by the CA consequently prompted the High Court to order further investigation on the case of Roxas so that the perpetrators of her abduction would finally be held accountable. Clearly, the medical certificate of Roxas played a pivotal role in the prosecution of her case as it served to firmly corroborate her story. Without such certificate stating her injuries, her story would have no leg to stand on, and the CA would not be convinced on the veracity of her testimony.

Such premise highlights that the purpose of a medical certificate is to provide expert opinion on the degree to which medical findings correlate with the alleged victim’s allegation of abuse, and to effectively communicate the medical findings and interpretations to the Judiciary or other authorities in charge with bringing to court the perpetrator of the abuse. Thus, a medical certificate or medico-legal report, which is the most basic form of medical documentation, can either make or break a victim’s case.

Aside from the prosecution of amparo cases like the case of Roxas, effective medical documentation is also highly significant in the prosecution of other human rights violations such as “crimes against humanity,” which include the inhumane acts of genocide, slavery, rape, and deliberate starvation. After all, in the whole range of human rights, the common denominator is the requirement that people must receive some degree of decent, humane treatment, arising out of mutual respect and morality.

Here in our country, the role of effective medical documentation is evidently seen in the prosecution of one of the most distressing crimes, which is rape. No longer classified as a private crime against chastity, rape is now internationally recognized as a human rights violation.

In the case of People v. Barcela,[5] the Court convicted a man who raped his daughter, giving credence to the testimony of the victim which was strongly supported by the medical findings of her attending physician. The Court said, “The testimony of AAA was corroborated by the medical findings of Dr. Quilon, the physician who conducted the medico-legal examination on her. Dr. Quilon, declared that he found healed hymenal lacerations at the two and seven o’clock notches on the private part of AAA, which could have been caused by the penetration of a man’s reproductive organ. He also disclosed that the hymen of AAA was no longer intact; she was no longer a virgin. When the testimony of a rape victim is consistent with the medical findings, sufficient basis exists to warrant a conclusion that the essential requisite of carnal knowledge has been established.” In this case, the Court ruled that the testimony of the doctor strengthens the claim of rape against the accused.

And in the case of People v. Jacinto,[6] the Court found the accused guilty of qualified rape after he raped a five-year-old girl. The Court took note of the medical findings and testimony of the attending physician, which revealed that the hymenal lacerations at 5 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions could have been caused by the penetration of an object; that the redness of the organ could have been “the result of the repeated battering of the object;” and that such object could have been an erect male organ. The Court therefore held that the credible testimony of AAA corroborated by the physician’s finding of penetration conclusively established the essential requisite of carnal knowledge in the crime of rape.

On the other hand, the case of People v. Quintal[7] shows how insufficient medical findings lead to an unsuccessful prosecution. In this case, the Court acquitted the accused based on reasonable doubt, citing as one of the reasons for the acquittal the deficient medical certificate. The Court held that “the medical certificate only contained one finding, that there was a round-the-clock abrasion in the labia minora. This is not at all conclusive nor corroborative to support the charge of rape. At most, this indicates that AAA had sexual intercourse. We find the medical finding lacking in relation to the testimony of AAA on how she was ravished by four men. Although a medical examination is not an indispensable element in a prosecution of rape, it could have corroborated an otherwise vague and dubious testimony of the victim.”

In the same case, the victim also alleged that her mouth was injured, and that her hands and feet were tied to a post by a nylon string. The Court ruled that naturally, the victim would have sustained injuries in her hands and feet, but all these injuries were never examined by the medico-legal officer, thereby significantly weakening her case.

In light of the foregoing, it is apparent that physicians and medical officers should be trained on how to write a medico-legal certificate or report to assist the law.[8] They should also be trained to stand as expert witnesses in courts of law as medico-legal reports on injuries could help authorities and courts of law arrive at logical conclusions. Doctors, in documenting their medical findings, should therefore strive to be meticulous in their examinations, and accurate in their reports.

As such, I would like to extend the Court’s gratitude to the Medical Action Group for coming up with a project that aims to build the capacity of medical professionals in gathering evidence and giving testimony, an initiative which is geared towards improving medical documentation in the prosecution of human rights violations. Let me also extend our thanks to the British Embassy for generously funding this venture, and to the Commission on Human Rights and the Association of Municipal Health Officers of the Philippines for committing to this cause. Indeed, this eight-month project, which we are launching here today, is a remarkable addition to our fight against the desecration of our human rights.

Again, thank you, and good luck.
 

Endnotes:

[1] GR Nos. 183711-13, Burgos v. Arroyo, July 5, 2011.
[2] GR Nos. 184461-62, 184495 & 187109, Cadapan v. Arroyo, May 31, 2011.
[3] GR No. 189155, September 7, 2010.
[4] Ibid.
[5] GR No. 179948, December 8, 2010.
[6] GR No. 182239, March 16, 2011.
[7] GR No. 184170, February 2, 2011.
[8] “Medicolegal Notes in Injuries, An Emerging Clinical Importance,” Journal of Clinical Pathology and Forensic Medicine Vol. 2(3), pp. 16-20, May 2011.

Advertisements