Chief prosecutor Peter Prestley disclosed yesterday that he has already approved the release of Emerita Relata Romero’s remains to the family since Monday.
Romero’s sister, Estrellita “Lhet” Relata, on the other hand, told Saipan Tribune late afternoon yesterday that they are still unsure whether they can bring the remains tomorrow, Saturday, to the Philippines for burial. Relata said they have not received the authorities’ go-signal to do so.
When asked as to when the Office of the Attorney General issued the release of Romero’s remains from the Commonwealth Health Center’s morgue, Prestley said his records show that he authorized the release on Monday, Feb. 13. Prestley did not elaborate.
This contradicts the statement made by Department of Public Safety Commissioner Ramon Mafnas, who said in a news briefing on Monday that the family’s plan to bring Romero’s remains to the Philippines this weekend “is not going to happen.”
Mafnas had said that Romero’s remains can only be flown to the Philippines when all forensic evaluations have been performed. He did not elaborate on the specific forensic evaluations that still need to be done.
Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham confirmed yesterday that chief prosecutor Prestley had indeed authorized the release of Romero’s body since Monday.
When asked what was causing the delay in releasing the body, Buckingham said in an email that “the loss of life in a homicide is a tragedy and any delay is understood to be frustrating.”
Buckingham said that because the circumstances in this case indicated a possible homicide, an autopsy was requested. Because of fiscal limitations, he said the Commonwealth does not have an on-island capacity to perform autopsies.
Buckingham said that Guam chief medical examiner Dr. Aurelio Espinola is the CNMI’s primary resource when an autopsy is required.
The OAG, he said, expedited a decision on having an autopsy performed and also expedited contact with Dr. Espinola to perform the autopsy.
“Dr. Espinola, in turn, arrived on Saipan as soon as he could,” Buckingham said.
Espinola conducted the autopsy at CHC’s morgue a few hours after FBI agents found Romero’s body on Feb. 7 at the northernmost building of the former La Fiesta Mall in San Roque.
Mafnas has refused to release the autopsy results to the media.
The sealed casket of Romero will be taken to Kristo Rai Church today, Friday, at 12pm for a Mass. Relata said that public viewing will follow the Mass until 2pm.
Romero, a bartender at Godfather’s Bar, was last seen alive boarding a green or blue tinted sedan around 3am on Feb. 5 in Garapan.