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(Update 2—3:58 p.m.) Dennis Aranas, the suspect-turned-witness in the murder of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega, did not commit suicide contrary to reports, the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) said Monday.
Aranas died not by asphyxia from hanging but by asphyxia secondary to manual (hand) and ligature strangulation, a post-mortem examination conducted by the PAO Forensic Laboratory said on Monday.
Dr. Erwin Erfe, chief of PAO Forensic Laboratory, said the autopsy conducted by PAO also revealed that Aranas had hematoma on the left part of the lower lip, which meant he was either punched or hit by a hard object.
Fingernail markings were also visible on the right side of Aranas' neck where a ligature mark was also found.
Erfe, however, noted that the ligature mark left by the strap of the shoulder bag purportedly used by Aranas was located on the lower part of the neck, which meant he could not have died from hanging but he was strangled while he was lying on the ground.
“A very significant finding is the fingernail marks on the right part of the neck indicating he was strangled using left hand,” Erfe told reporters.
“There is also no evidence that he hanged himself,” he added, because of the lack of a noose mark at the back of Aranas' head.
At least four persons killed Aranas as indicated by evidence that showed contusions on his arms and legs, meaning he was pinned down. Two other people could have strangled Aranas while he was pinned to the ground.
Erfe said the suspects ganged up on Aranas as his left eye was also swollen.
The findings of the PAO forensic laboratory contradicted the autopsy report conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which revealed that Aranas died due to asphyxia from hanging. Relatives of Aranas went to PAO to seek legal assistance as they insisted that Aranas could not have killed himself.
Persida Rueda-Acosta, PAO chief, called for a deeper investigation into the incident.
"Makikiusap kami kay Secretary (Mar) Roxas na mag issue ng directive sa BJMP na magsagawa ng intensive investigation dun sa loob ng jail," Acosta said.
Aljon Aranas, Dennis' brother, insisted that Dennis was not suffering from depression as indicated by officials of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). He said they were supposed to meet Dennis on February 6, a day after he was found dead.
"Inaasahan niyang darating kami kaya hindi kapani-paniwalang gagawin niya yun," Aljon said. He also questioned why Dennis left behind no suicide note or no indication why he would kill himself.
The BJMP said Dennis was reportedly suffering from depression after being removed from the witness protection program (WPP) due to another murder case.
The PAO lab report only serves to buttress an allegation that a “pattern and series”of cover-ups have been undertaken to thwart the conviction of the murderers of Gerry Ortega.
Ortega exposed corruption surrounding scores of projects in Palawan funded by the province’s multi-billion peso share of the royalties from the Malampaya Gas Project. [See: Ortega]
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has directed the NBI to investigate the death of Aranas.
She also clarified that Aranas is not under the Witness Protection Program.