Justice remains elusive for the thousands of victims of Rodrigo Duterter’s brutal and bloody drug war. They are not at peace in their graves and their families continue to suffer, not only for losing a loved one, but in finding justice for their deaths.

Many people could hardly believe it when the Duterte administration kept on denying there were cases of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under its watch in the last six years.

Duterte is very confident he could escape responsibility for the thousands of drug users, couriers and street-level peddlers who were killed in the police “Operation Double Barrel” from Day 1 of his presidency in 2016.

A Reuters special report on the drug war detailed how Duterte could get away with the murders when local and international courts start earnestly looking into the drug war after he steps down from power later this month.

Reuters shadowed a forensic pathologist, Raquel Fortun, for almost a year as she examined exhumed remains of drug war victims, taken from public cemeteries that have started to remove the remains after five years to give way to new corpses to be buried.

Under local laws, the remains should be removed from cramped cemeteries after five years if families of the dead could not afford to pay the fee for another five years of interment.

Poor families who cannot afford to extend the burial space face eviction. In the Philippines, the living do not only lose their homes in slum colonies. The dead also suffer the same fate in public cemeteries.

Grave diggers usually placed the exhumed remains in plastic sacks and disposed of them in another part of the cemetery. Relatives of the dead would be surprised to discover that another person could be occupying the tomb of a dearly departed.

If they were not aware of the cemetery’s policies, they would no longer be able to locate where the remains were moved to or disposed of.

Based on the Reuters’ special report, a Roman Catholic priest, Flavie Villanueva, helped drug war widows and orphans take care of discarded remains.

But there is more. With drug war victims’ families consent, the skeletal remains were examined again by Dr. Fortun at her university laboratory, because they discovered some irregularities.

In the death certificates issued by the local government’s civil registry, most of the drug war victims were said to have died of natural causes, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, and even due to complications brought about by high blood pressure.

There were no indications of the violent nature of their deaths even if there was a bullet hole in their skulls.

Most of the drug war victims were not autopsied after their deaths because their families were told that they needed to shell out extra cash for the examination.

The families were eager to give their loved ones a decent burial so they signed waivers and other papers shoved to them, including the death certificates.

There was a grand conspiracy. The Duterte government made sure it had cleaned its tracks as the courts would rely on official documents when deciding on cases.

With no medico-legal documents and fabricated death certificates, drug war victims faced another injustice at the hands of civil servants.

Based on Reuters’ special report, funeral parlors that made money on grieving families prepared the death certificates and asked the widows or orphans to sign the documents.

The police could have ordered the funeral parlors to make the grieving widows and orphans sign the death certificates showing that the drug war victim died of natural causes.

The police have a close working relationship with funeral parlors, especially those assigned with the homicide section of the investigation division of every police station.

All hospitals are required to report to the police all medico-legal cases — a shooting or stabbing incident that resulted in injuries and deaths.

In case of deaths, the police alert a designated funeral parlor where medico-legal cases are handled. Normally, autopsies are done at the funeral parlors.

The funeral parlors also take care of the dead bodies and there were instances when they provided vehicles to homicide investigators.

In cases when the dead bodies were found on the streets, the police “scene of crime operatives” (SOCO) rushed to the area and investigated it, before handing to homicide investigators pieces of evidence they had gathered.

Funeral parlors picked up the dead bodies. If a dead body had no identity and was not claimed by a family, it was labeled “x” and dumped in the morgue.

After a certain period, unclaimed bodies were either sold to medical schools or buried in mass graves in a local cemetery.

Some doctors did not actually examine the corpses, according to the Reuters special report. At the height of the drug war, there could be as many as three to five victims every night in a particular city in the capital region or elsewhere.

Funeral parlors and medico-legal practitioners would be busy all night dealing with dead bodies of drug war victims.

It was clear based on the Reuters’ special report that the police, doctors from the health department, and funeral parlors could have all conspired to manufacture death certificates of drug war victims to hide the violent nature of their deaths.

The death certificates could be the strongest case against the thousands of extrajudicial killings under Duterte. The number of victims, which the police is acknowledging, had stopped counting at 6,000, but there’s more than that figure.

It could have been a perfect crime, but they forgot Father Flavie and Dr. Fortun. The grand conspiracy has been exposed. The crimes committed under Duterte keep on adding, burying him into the pit.