Information and advice if a friend or family member has been a victim of murder, manslaughter or has died in suspicious circumstances in the Philippines
This information is to help you understand what you need to do if a British national has been a victim of murder or manslaughter or has died in suspicious circumstances in the Philippines and you are the next of kin.
You should also read the guidance available on what you need to do if you are bereaved through murder or manslaughter abroad, and what support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide.
A post mortem is locally referred to as an autopsy or medico-legal. Authority to carry out a post mortem is normally required from the next of kin. It does not need to be in person – it can be given by email or remotely although the authorities do like a signature on paper.
You must advise the local authorities or the British Embassy about any concerns you have about a post mortem. However, post mortems may be performed without prior authority if a person died of a violent death, or if the cause of death cannot be readily determined.
A forensic doctor from the Philippine National Police (PNP) normally conducts post mortems either at a police crime lab or at a funeral home with available facilities. Tissue samples of internal organs are taken and brought to the PNP Crime Laboratory in Camp Crame (PNP headquarters) for examination. When a post mortem is completed, the local funeral director will embalm the body for preservation.
Sometimes local embalming methods mean that the full range of tests cannot be done if a second post mortem is requested. Embalming procedures may have an impact on the efficacy of any subsequent post mortems (for example, if one is ordered by a Coroner in England or Wales). The standards applied in Philippine mortuaries may not necessarily be to the same standards in the United Kingdom. For instance, not all funeral homes have refrigeration facilities, thus the deceased may have to be embalmed immediately. Next of kin are advised to enquire with the funeral home about possible embalmment procedures; any costs involved for funeral services; and also payment options available. Some mortuaries only accept payment in local currency (Philippine pesos).
Post mortem results or reports are released after two to three weeks and are required for the local death certificate to be issued. Post mortem reports are normally readily shared with the family or next of kin and can be requested via the British Embassy or by appointing a local lawyer. Remains may be released for burial, cremation or repatriation once the post mortem is complete. We are not aware of any organ retention practices in the Philippines.
Repatriation of a body
Repatriation takes on average two to three working days to arrange. You will need to appoint a local or international funeral director to help organise repatriation. As in many other countries, repatriation of cremated ashes is cheaper than arranging repatriation of a body. However, if you decide to arrange cremation, it will not be possible for further testing or a second post mortem to be carried out, for example if there is a Coroner’s inquest on return to England or Wales.
Local funeral directors require an immediate family member (next of kin) to decide on important matters such as burial, cremation, or repatriation to the United Kingdom, or another country. Hospitals would normally require a family member to sign as ‘informant’ on the local death certificate. If the next of kin is unavailable, or resides overseas, they may appoint an authorised representative to act on their behalf and deal with local authorities. This can be done usually via a signed letter or fax from the family authorising a specific individual to act on their behalf. There are various private and public cemeteries across the country.
Burial in a private cemetery may involve purchasing a plot of land and may be expensive. Burial in a public cemetery usually includes a 5-year contract. If the contract is not renewed, then the coffin is exhumed and placed in a common grave. The space is then declared vacant.
If the funeral expenses are not paid for, the deceased will be given a pauper’s burial. The local public health office will require this if the remains have not been buried after a certain period, as a measure to protect the health of the public. The deceased will be buried in a common grave.
Most funeral homes have mortuary facilities and are available in most key cities and small towns throughout the Philippines. Crematoriums are mostly located in Metro Manila, but there are a few cremation facilities available in the provinces. Next of kin must check with the funeral home whether caskets used prior to cremation should be paid for outright. If it was used on loan from the funeral home, the casket will have to be returned after the cremation.
Traditionally, a wake or a vigil is held while awaiting the burial date of the deceased. This is a common Philippine practice of Catholic origin, where the deceased is displayed in a chapel, or family’s home, for viewing of family and friends during a certain period. Some known funeral homes contain small chapels where wakes may be held. Next of kin must immediately advise the funeral home, authorised representative, or their consular officer if they have concerns or objections on holding a wake for their loved one. Some funeral homes conduct e-vigils or wakes recorded live on a camera and shared/viewed via the internet, either for additional cost or included in a package.
The police will share some information on the investigation directly with consular officials or family but normally this is only once they are aware of British Embassy involvement. Investigations are lengthy and can go on for years or simply peter out. Investigations are generally not formally closed and police may provide only limited updates. Cases can be kept open indefinitely or “archived” if no perpetrator is caught. There is no coronial system in the Philippines.
The judicial process is lengthy and cases can go on for years especially if they are contested. There is also a lot of bureaucracy, insufficient courts and judges and it may sometimes be difficult to compel witnesses to attend, due to various reasons including inefficiency in delivering subpoenas, witnesses having transferred offices or residence, etc. Families do not need to become a legal party to the case although family involvement can help to put pressure on authorities to move the case along.
To help expedite a case, you may want to employ the services of a private prosecutor, who can work alongside and under the supervision of the government prosecutor. You can attend court hearings and liaise directly with the police, and we can request updates on your behalf. However, it’s not uncommon for us to not receive responses to our requests for information and you may therefore wish to appoint a local lawyer to provide regular updates. A lawyer can represent your interests in court, legitimately make enquiries on your behalf and give you accurate legal advice about the Philippine judicial system and how to raise any concerns you might have. If a suspect is taken into custody, trials are conducted before a Regional Trial Court judge sitting alone.
At present there is a moratorium on use of the death penalty (there is no sentencing to death, but it hasn’t been completely abolished). This may change in the near future as the new President is committed to re-introducing the death penalty. The UK government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. We believe its use undermines human dignity, there is no proof of its deterrent effect, and errors made in its use are irreversible. Where there is a risk of the death penalty being imposed and carried out for the crime under investigation, the UK will seek assurances that anyone found guilty would not face the death penalty. Provision of UK assistance and related information may not be provided to the overseas authority if inadequate or no assurances are received.
Other useful information
The media in the Philippines are intrusive and sensationalist and use graphic images or photographs, especially if a case involves foreign nationals. It can be very difficult to manage any media intrusion. The Embassy media team can be consulted and may be able to make any representations to the media about family privacy although this is likely to have limited impact;
There are local support organisations for families of victims - VACC – Victims Against Crime and Corruption;
VACC – Victims Against Crime and Corruption
Telephone: +63 2 352 0174
Address: Unit 601 Pacific Corporate Centre, 131 West Avenue, Quezon City, Metro Manila
A local death certificate produced in English is immediately processed through the civil registrar in the town or city where the British national died, although issuance of a certified copy from the central authority, the Philippine Statistics Office (PSA), may take at least three months;
Free Legal aid is available in the Philippines upon request and only if the Public Attorney’s Office is satisfied that the individual requesting the service is an indigent. A Certificate of Indigence will be required; this may be applied for through the barangay (smallest political unit on the Philippines) where the individual resides. Under other circumstances, such as a suspicious death, next of kin may wish to engage the services of a local prosecuting lawyer to represent their interests, or should a trial be necessary.
Neither the British Embassy nor HM Government accept legal liability with regards to the content of this information sheet.