A FORENSIC EXPERT FALLS

Manila, June 15, 2003 The Philippine Star Editorial: It’s bad enough that the nation lacks capable forensic experts. What makes the situation more disheartening is when the top medico-legal examiner of the National Bureau of Investigation himself stands accused of extorting money in exchange for a false forensic medical report. Dr. Maximo Reyes was arrested this week by a combined team from his own bureau, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Police Anti-Crime Emergency Response.

The arrest was in response to a complaint from the owner of a hospital in Carmen, Pangasinan where a patient had died six days after undergoing a caesarian section. The hospital wanted clearance from any culpability in the death so the owner, Dr. Lenet Chan, had asked the local NBI office to conduct an autopsy. When Chan asked the local NBI medico-legal officer, Dr. Jet Castro, for the findings, the hospital owner was allegedly told to get the report in Manila from Reyes himself, and to have P200,000 ready. Chan then sought help from authorities.

Reyes will have his day in court. In the meantime, the public can only wonder how many medico-legal reports have been fabricated for a fee by the NBI, and how much injustice can be attributed to those fake findings. Such reports can be decisive factors in court cases. Then again, why should the public be surprised? There are prosecutors and judges who can be bought. Why not medico-legal offi-cers?

When justice can be bought, poor litigants do not stand a chance. This latest scandal can only further erode public trust in the nation’s criminal justice system. Forensic medicine in this country has a long way to go. Years ago, during the furor over Filipina domestic helper Flor Contemplacion, we were humiliated when US forensic experts upheld the findings of the Singaporeans and threw out the report of the NBI.

By this time, Philippine law enforcement agencies should be pushing for the modernization of their forensic capabilities, which could greatly improve criminal investigation. But how can this be possible when medico-legal officers are more concerned about making money than upgrading their equipment or improving their craft?

NBI MEDICO-LEGAL CHIEF SACKED

Manila, June 15, 2003
By Cecille Suerte Felipe (Star) National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Reynaldo Wycoco relieved from his post yesterday his medico-legal chief, who was arrested for extortion in an entrapment inside the NBI main office last Wednesday.

In a telephone interview with The STAR, Wycoco said he is now scouting for a replacement for Dr. Maximo Reyes, accused of extorting P200,000 from a doctor-owner of a hospital in Carmen Pangasinan.

"Dr. Reyes has been relieved from his post and we are now scouting for his replacement," Wycoco said.

Reyes who is facing extortion charges and may be stripped off his license to practice for life.

Agents of the NBI-Special Task Force arrested Reyes inside his office at the second floor of the NBI headquarters on Taft Avenue in Manila last June 11. Reyes was found positive for ultraviolet powder, which came from the money handed over to him by complainant Dr. Linette Chan.

Contrary to reports, Wycoco said, the arrest was made by agents of the NBI-Special Task Force, under Marianito Panganiban.

"There were neither PACER nor ISAFP officers when NBI agents arrested Reyes at his office," said Wycoco, referring to Police Anti-Crime Emergency Response team of the PNP and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which were reported to have carried out the arrest.

The arrest was made after Chan complained that Reyes was extorting money from her in exchange for a favorable medico-legal report of a patient who died at her hospital.

Chan had been charged for the death of a female patient apparently due to loss of blood or complications arising from a caesarian operation.

Wycoco noted that Reyes had indicated his intention to overturn the findings, prompting Chan to file a complaint with PACER and seek assistance from her cousin, Col. Mario Chan, the Philippine defense attaché to India.

It was Col. Chan, who relayed the case to ISAFP chief Victor Corpus who, in turn called Wycoco’s attention to the extortion case.

PACER operatives initially set an entrapment operation in Pangasinan on June 10. However, policemen had to reset the operation after the doctor designated by Reyes to receive the money on his behalf got sick and failed to show up for the supposed pay-off.

Last Thursday, Chan went directly to Reyes’ office and handed over to him the P200,000, after which Panganiban’s men arrested the medico-legal chief.

Big burden

Wycoco admitted that the arrest of Reyes was difficult to enforce considering the rapport he had established with other NBI officials and personnel since he joined the bureau.

"We consider this a big burden on the leadership, but we have to do this," stressed the NBI chief, who noted that he informed other ranking NBI officials, including Assistant Director Lolito Utitco of the complaint against Reyes prior to his arrest.

Wycoco pointed out that Reyes’ arrest has both negative and positive effects on the bureau.

"It would somehow create a bad impression on the integrity of the bureau. But it would surely show that the NBI will act on each and every complaint, regardless of the personality involved," he added.

Wycoco noted that Chan’s complaint was the first he had heard of against Reyes since he became the NBI director two years ago.

Ricardo Diaz, chief of the NBI-International Police (Interpol) Division said when he joined the NBI 15 years ago, Reyes was already with the Medico Legal Division.

"I think Dr. Reyes has been with the bureau for more than 30 years now," Diaz said.

"Unfortunately, the first time he committed an offense he got caught," Wycoco said.

The NBI-Medico Legal Office is considered one of the more sensitive units, being the bureau’s eye in establishing evidence against criminals.

Wycoco warned other officials and personnel of the NBI they would suffer the same consequence should they be involved in any wrongdoing.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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