Philippine police under fire for prematurely classifying death of 23-year-old Filipina flight attendant as “rape-slay”

In a perturbing twist, it appears that the death of a 23-year-old Filipina flight attendant at a New Year’s Eve party was attributed to an aneurysm and that it is not a “rape-slay” case as originally described by the police.

A report by South China Morning (SCMP) published on Tuesday (12 January) titled Philippine police under microscope after ‘rape-slay’ case of flight attendant falls apart highlighted the botched investigation that has led to accusations of police incompetence.

The Makati City police first announced that Christine Dacera had been drugged, raped, and murdered by the men she was partying with at the City Garden Hotel in violation of COVID-19 regulations.

It was reported that at least 12 men were celebrating with Dacera that night. She was brought to the hospital by three male friends who had informed authorities that they found her lying in the hotel bathtub, unconscious. She was later pronounced dead.

Senator and former world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao offered a reward of 500,000 pesos to anyone who caught the suspects. Another congressman, Eric Yap, added another 100,000 pesos to the bounty.

On 4 January, the National Police issued a statement in which they described the case as “rape-slay” and had arrested three of the men who were present at the party.

The next day, Debold Sinas, director of the National Police, publicly summoned the other nine men who he called “suspect”. He called on them to “surrender within 72 hours or we will hunt you down using force if necessary”.

“We know who you are”, his warning continued. “Your families must turn you over to the police. Those found to be abetting your escape will also be arrested.”

This threat, however, was made without arrest warrants against the men or even findings from a formal investigation. SCMP notes that the police did not have evidence of a crime.

An autopsy, which was conducted on 2 January, revealed that the young woman likely died of an aortic aneurysm which might have been caused by high blood pressure.

However, the findings were conditional, as the autopsy was performed only after the body had been embalmed –- meaning the body was probably washed, with organs and bodily fluids removed for the embalming process.

The police had also revealed that they had not done toxicology tests on the victim to detect the presence of drugs.

The Makati City prosecutor’s office proceeded to order that the three men be released due to a lack of evidence and subject to further investigation.

Speaking to the media after, one of the men told the media that all the men who were with Dacera were gay and could not have raped her.

Responding to queries on that statement, Makati Chief of Police Harold Depositar said, “They’re still men; they have instincts especially if under the influence of intoxicating alcohol, and in the presence of drugs all the more.”

The reputation of the Philippines’ police force has, prior to this case, already been mired by allegations of rampant arrests and fatal shootings of crime suspects in the absence of proper investigations and due process.

The initial news of the case—including the police describing it as a ‘rape-slay’ case—triggered a strong reaction from netizens against rape culture. The hashtag #JusticeForChristineDacera became viral overnight. Other hashtags that resurfaced were #StopVictimBlaming, #ProtectDrunkGirls, and #RapeIsRape.

Celebrities chimed in as well to raise awareness on the effects of rape culture and victim-blaming as well as the importance of teaching consent.

Kakie Pangilinan, gender advocate and daughter of Senator Francis Pangilinan, stressed that women should be treated with respect and basic human decency.

She tweeted, “We would prefer your respect over your protection. We’re not pretty things that need constant guarding. We’re human beings.”

However, following the autopsy result and other concerns regarding how the police had investigated—or rather did not investigate—the case before declaring it as rape and murder, many have come forward online to demand more evidence and even backtrack on their initial condemnation of the suspects.

Kakie deleted her earlier tweets and apologised for “helping to spread misinformation”:

A retired National Capital Region director of the Philippine’s National Bureau of Investigation, Ricardo Diaz, told SCMP that the disturbing sloppiness of the police’s work shows that the force — under the direction of Sinas — has no respect for human rights or regard for proper investigative techniques.

He criticised Sinas’ use of the word “suspects” instead of “subjects” which he says implies that there is evidence against them, adding that the director’s threat against the 12 men and their families are “worrisome at the least and frightening at the most for our country”.

“It can be presumed from the way [Sinas] made pronouncements in the Dacera case that he will do the same in other cases – like calling persons under investigation to surrender and giving them ultimatums, like announcing beforehand that Dacera was a victim of rape and homicide without waiting for the result of the investigation,” said Diaz.

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