The police chief of an affluent area of the Philippine capital, Manila, has been suspended for his handling of an investigation into the suspected rape and murder of a young air stewardess.
The case of Christine Dacera, found dead in a hotel room after a New Year’s Eve party, made headlines for weeks, police quickly said she had been raped and murdered, arresting three men. But the men have now been released while questions have been raised over officers’ initial conclusions. The removal of Makati Police Chief Colonel Harold Depositar is the latest development, and comes in the wake of massive criticism for their handling of the high profile case. Critics say the case represents a denial of due process, an issue that has been raised before in relation to their implementation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “War on Drugs”
On 4 January, police issued a statement that they had “solved” the death of the 23-year-old flight attendant, adding that she had been raped and murdered, the statement added that police had arrested three suspects arrested while nine others were “still at large”. All 12 men had been with her that night. Despite a pending legal medical review of the death, Colonel Depositar confirmed they had “already filed a rape with homicide” case. Initially, outrage. The story exploded on social media and was trending for days, the hashtag #JusticeForChristineDacera went viral following the police statement, although there were those who blamed her for partying with so many men. General Sinas called on the nine “at large” to “surrender within 72 hours or we will hunt you down using force if necessary”.
Senator, and decorated boxer, Manny Pacquiao offered a reward of US$10,400 (£7.600) for information related to the death. Senator Pacquiao, who is tipped to run for president in 2022, said the case was another example of why the death penalty should be revived in the Philippines. Holes in the official narrative started to emerge after Gregorio de Guzman, one of the three suspects, was quoted by the ABS-CBN news website as saying “every one” of the 12 accused was gay. Mr de Guzman said Dacera was “cherished” by the group – who had partied with her at the hotel that night. “My impression of her is she likes to hang out with us LGBT members,” he said. “She’s comfortable with us.”
Then, the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office said “the pieces of evidence so far submitted are insufficient to establish that Dacera was sexually assaulted or raped”. The three accused were released pending further investigations. The Makati police have also been criticized for not carrying out a thorough toxicology report when her body was found, the case has been further complicated after two of the initial suspects claimed they had been forced to make false statements about drug use at the party because police subjected them “to mental torture”, but her mother, Sharon, insists there was foul play. “For me, my daughter was raped,” Mrs Dacera said in an interview with the news program Headstart. “If you see the body of Christine, if you are the mother you will surely feel the pain suffered by Christine.”
A second autopsy has been conducted on the body and officials are awaiting results. Her family believes it will show that Dacera was drugged, which led to her rape and murder. Meanwhile, the family has also filed a complaint alleging gross negligence and gross incompetence against a police medical-legal officer for “irregular and inaccurate” submission of a report and death certificate regarding their daughter’s death.