The use of forensic DNA evidence in effective governance of the local community

Adapted Article
Written by Ma. Corazon A. de Ungria, PhD
04 October 2012

Photo credits: Philippine Genome Center
Among the forensic sciences, the most recently introduced and among the most powerful means of identification is DNA technology. By taking advantage of one’s genetic code, it has become easier to link suspects to a crime based on biological samples found in crime scenes. By taking advantage of the hereditary nature of DNA, it has also become simpler to resolve issues of filial obligation, particularly in matters pertaining to child support or claims of inheritance. However, in order to successfully implement this technology at the local level, support from government and full cooperation of the community must be obtained.

There is an urgent need to familiarize stakeholders from the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government regarding the significance and limitations of DNA technology. For example, local government units should include forensic training in their mass disaster management strategies, if these exist. In disaster situations such as typhoons, flashfloods, fire and vehicular accidents, the identification of the dead has become a very expensive, time-consuming and drawn-out process due to the inability of governments to allocate resources to the identification of the dead during the early phases of rescue. However, after some time, the identification of the dead becomes a primary concern because the persons who survived the disaster need to find their missing kin in order to achieve closure, in the process of rehabilitation. In addition, legal concerns such as the issuance of death certificates for insurance and death claim benefits, inheritance issues, and re-marriage of surviving spouse, will continue to afflict the survivors, thus aggravating their suffering, if the remains of their missing relatives are not located. In a country that experiences an average of 20 typhoons per year, could we not formulate strategies for efficient and cost-effective identification of recovered bodies, for the sake of the living?

In the case of the judiciary, the Rule on DNA Evidence that serves to govern Philippine courts in cases when DNA evidence exists, was promulgated by the Supreme Court in 2007. Based on this Rule, a court order may be issued for DNA testing provided that: 1) a relevant biological sample exists; 2) the biological sample was not tested previously; and 3) that the DNA tests may generate new information that may help in the resolution of the case. However, given this Rule, family courts have not maximized the utility of DNA technology in routinely requiring this evidence to provide support or negate allegations of relationships. With the development of highly discriminatory DNA tests, it is now possible to exclude a man with absolute certainty from being the biological father of a child as well as provide a Probability of Paternity far greater than the 99.9 percent provided for by the Supreme Court to presume paternity. With DNA evidence assisting courts for the early resolution of disputed parentage cases, one expects the courts to better manage their caseloads in a more efficient manner.

About the Author

The author received the NAST Outstanding Young Scientist Award in 2003 for Molecular Biology. She is the current head of the DNA Analysis Laboratory, Natural Sciences Research Institute of UP Diliman and the director of the Program on Forensic and Ethnicity of the Philippine Genome Center. She Ungria has appeared as expert witness in cases involving disputed parentage issues and in relation to criminal cases. She provided her technical assistance during the formulation of the Rule on DNA Evidence and her opinion on different bills regarding forensic DNA technology. The UP-NSRI DNA Laboratory continues to offer its parentage testing and DNA profiling expertise as part of its commitment to serve the community.