Mishandling of Dacera’s death shows Sinas’ incompetence

The death of flight attendant Christine Dacera has opened a fresh can of worms on how the police can be extremely careless and irresponsible in handling criminal cases, particularly complicated ones.

The most glaring weakness in the system came from no less than Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Debold Sinas with his reckless pronouncement that the case was solved, based on initial evidence from which he drew the conclusion that the 23-year-old Dacera had been raped before she was killed.

The decision of Maj. Michael Nick Sarmiento, medico-legal officer of the Southern Police District (SPD), to have Dacera’s body embalmed without first conducting a medico-legal examination, and absent her family’s consent, was yet another irresponsible thing to do.

Sinas acted in haste in declaring the case solved even if the police had taken into custody only three of at least 11 suspects, and the rest remained at large.

The PNP chief was apparently unaware or has forgotten about Memorandum Circular No. 94-017 and Memorandum Circular No. 2020-006 issued by the National Police Commission (Napolcom) titled, “Adopting a Uniform Criteria in Determining When a Crime is Considered Solved.”

The identical circulars issued in 1994 and 2020 enumerated the following elements before a case can be considered solved: 1) the offender has been identified, 2) there is sufficient evidence to charge him or her, 3) the offender has actually been been taken into custody and 4) the offender has actually been charged before the prosecutor’s office or court of appropriate jurisdiction.

In Dacera’s case, only the identity of some of the suspects had been made when Sinas declared it “officially solved.” Only the gay men in the room that Dacera booked for a New Year’s Eve party at City Garden Hotel in Makati City had been identified at the time. What about those in the adjacent room where Dacera was seen on closed circuit television (CCTV) footage to have gone to a number of times? Aren’t they suspects, too?

Makati City Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento’s decision to release the three suspects from police custody showed that the second element was not met, and so were the third and fourth elements. The prosecutor has declared that the rape with homicide charge filed by the police was premature.

The Makati Prosecutor’s Office has set a preliminary investigation for January 13 for the Makati police to submit additional documents, including DNA, toxicology and histopathology reports on the victim and suspects.

Dacera’s parents have sought the dismissal of Sarmiento from the PNP for gross negligence and gross incompetence in preparing his medico-legal report in Christine’s death certificate in which he indicated the cause of death was a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

Even if the cause of death may later be confirmed as aortic aneurysm, Sarmiento’s report would still be faulted for being incomplete because it did not include other conditions on Dacera’s body such as the bruises and cuts on her legs.

Several questions such as Dacera’s health history remained unanswered before conclusions were made. If she indeed died of aortic aneurysm, what caused it? How did she get the contusions on her body? The police theory that she was raped was supposedly based on the presence of semen found in the hotel room. Whose semen were those?

Apparently wanting to have somebody to blame for the death of her daughter, Dacera’s mother, Sharon, quickly believed Sinas’ conclusion that Christine was raped and killed.

While Mrs. Dacera has been very critical of Sarmiento, she has been too kind with Sinas. She was even seen in one photograph hugging Sinas, disregarding the physical distancing protocol due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

From her photos on her Facebook account, Christine Dacera looks like a pretty, sweet and outgoing lady. Having graduated from the University of the Philippines-Mindanao, it would seem that she has brains, too.

But the rape angle led to the release of snippets of CCTV footage from the hotel, showing Dacera apparently drunk and going wild with her gay friends, leading to conclusions that she was a victim of drug overdose or intoxication. Sadly, these unpleasant side of Christine came from her trusted friends who are desperately extricating themselves from the crime of rape with homicide.

The cost of the police mishandling of Dacera’s case is too much, considering the scarcity of resources for the backlog of many other cases in court. Were it not for the incompetence and negligence of the police officers who handled the case, those costs would have been unnecessary.

If the police could be so negligent in handling a highly-publicized case such as Dacera’s death, can we trust them with many other cases that are not covered by the media and are out of the public eye?

Efforts to build the PNP’s image as protector of the people are lost in careless and irresponsible decisions and actions such as what happened in investigating the death of Christine.

The Dacera case is yet another proof that Sinas does not deserve to be rewarded the top PNP post.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.

This column also appeared in The Manila Times.