Forensic Science

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TEODORO Agoncillo once chided me for asking too many what-if questions in history, ?Why concern yourself with what did not happen, when just reconstructing what happened is already a big challenge.?

I have never given up on the what-ifs because often what did not happen can be more engaging than what actually happened. Take for example, the debate over the cause of Napoleon?s death that textbooks set down as stomach cancer. There were forensic doctors who examined strands of Napoleon?s hair and found traces of arsenic, suggesting that the emperor of France did not die of natural causes and could have been murdered with regular doses of arsenic. This debate always makes me wonder if it is possible to re-examine Juan Luna?s ashes, now resting in the crypt of San Agustin Church in Intramuros, to validate whether he did die of angina pectoris, as stated in his death certificate in 1899, or whether he was murdered, by poisoning, as his family maintained. If it was simply a heart attack then the case is closed. If it was caused by poison, then the historian will have to track down a murderer and try to understand the motives for the crime.

Fortunately, not everything is open ended. In 1980, Apolinario Mabini?s remains were exhumed and studied by a group of orthopedic doctors led by Dr. Jose M. Pujalte who put to rest the rumor that the ?Sublime Paralytic? lost the use of his legs due to syphilis. No scandal there: Mabini was afflicted by polio.

Then we have pre-war autopsy reports on the recovered remains of Gregorio del Pilar, who was identified by relations from his teeth. Quite a dandy ?General Goyo? had uniforms with gold buttons and even a silver-plated revolver. He sported a gold crown that drew attention to his teeth marred by crowding or sungki. Like Jose Rizal, whose teeth caused his jaw to protrude, General Goyo needed braces. The bones excavated in Maragondon early in the 20th century by a group led by Guillermo Masangkay were photographed and has...
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