Friday, March 23, 2012

Crime-solving for real

(Published Mar. 23, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Hit crime shows “CSI” and “Dexter” emphasize the importance of DNA evidence found at crime scenes. Identifying the genetic codes left by culprits is crucial to solving mysterious or complicated cases—a meticulous process that the Philippines’ top DNA analyst, Dr. Maria Corazon de Ungria, considers imperative if one must prove or disprove a suspect’s presumed guilt.

De Ungria will appear in the fifth episode of the C&I (Crime & Investigation Network) series, “Partners in Crime,” which features real cases from different Asian countries. “I was contacted by the producers in late September 2011 via e-mail and phone to participate,” De Ungria said in an e-mail interview with Inquirer.

“They filmed overtime one weekend before I left for a conference in Singapore,” she said. “I give credit to the hardworking crew and my team at the UP Natural Sciences Research Institute (NSRI) DNA Lab for being able to work on such short notice.”

In the episode, the scientist relates how DNA testing was done in a case involving an elderly man accused of abuse. She also talked about a separate case, a grisly crime committed in another part of the country.

De Ungria told  Inquirer: “TV is a very important medium that reaches a wider public without the limitation of physical location, cultures and beliefs. I needed to select the vehicle that could carry this message… without sensationalizing or distorting. The producers of ‘Partners in Crime’ convinced me of their professionalism, so I agreed to be part of the series.”

In the Philippines, admission of DNA evidence for crime cases was allowed by the Supreme Court in the late 1990s. De Ungria suggested that strict training in the gathering of such irrefutable evidence be prioritized. She elaborated: “I recommend focusing on the training of individuals who collect samples from crime scenes, [such as] scene-of-the-crime officers, investigators, and allied medical professionals [including] pathologists, nurses, medical technologists and dentists.”

De Ungria continued: “Given the development in DNA technology, the training should include precautionary guidelines in the collection of samples that may be useful sources of DNA. [These] would help in the reconstruction of the series of events leading to the crime.”

As head of the DNA Analysis Laboratory of the NSRI based in UP Diliman, De Ungria manages research projects and services performed in the laboratory. “Our greatest achievement to date is our active involvement in initiatives that promote the use of science for the protection of human rights,” she said. “From 2001-2006, we worked with the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on the anti-death penalty campaign because of a number of wrongful convictions that were discovered upon closer study of the cases …”
(“Partners in Crime” airs Mondays, 10:30 p.m. on C&I. Dr. De Ungria’s episode airs on April 2.)

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