La Union RTC junks charge of illegal possession of dangerous drugs filed vs Julian Ongpin

Published November 15, 2021, 6:32 PM

by Jeffrey Damicog

Trial Court

The San Fernando City regional trial court (RTC) in La Union on Monday, Nov. 15, dismissed the illegal possession of dangerous drugs case filed against Julian Roberto S. Ongpin, son of billionaire businessman and former Trade and Industry Minister Roberto V. Ongpin.

Julian was charged by government prosecutors with illegal possession of 12.6 grams of cocaine, a prohibited drug. The prohibited drug was allegedly recovered inside a San Juan, La Union hotel room where he and the late artist Breanna “Bree” Jonson checked in last Sept. 17.

Last Sept. 18, Breanna was found unconscious and later died. Julian has become a person of interest in Breanna’s death.

In an order issued by Judge Romeo E. Agacita Jr., the trial court ruled that the policemen who arrested Julian failed to comply with the provisions of Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Section 21 of RA 9165 imposes a strict compliance with the chain of custody of the seized illegal drugs.

The law requires that the seized dangerous drugs must be inventoried and photographed immediately after seizure or confiscation; the physical inventory and photographing must be done in the presence of the accused or his/her representative or counsel, an elected public official, a representative from the media, and a representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ), all of whom shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy of the same; and the seized drugs must be turned over to a forensic laboratory within 24 hours from confiscation for examination.”

In its numerous decisions, the Supreme Court (SC) had ruled that “strict compliance with the requirements is necessary in protecting the integrity and identity of the corpus delicti, without which the crime of the illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

In his order, Judge Agacita said:

“It is specifically provided that the prohibited drugs be immediately marked by the apprehending officer as soon as they are seized from the accused to prevent the switching, ‘planting,’ or contamination of evidence. Strict compliance with the prescribed procedure is necessary because the illegal drug’s unique characteristic rendering it indistinct, not readily identifiable, and easily open to tampering, alteration or substitution either by accident or otherwise.

“A careful scrutiny of the Inventory of Evidence Collected discloses that, at the time of the seizure of alleged illegal drugs, the ‘eight (8) sealed transparent sachet containing white substance’ and ‘ten (10) sealed plastic sachet containing white substance’ were merely marked as ‘JSD-B’ and ‘JSD-A.’

“Nowhere in the said Inventory of Evidence Collected is there an indication that plastic sachets were individually marked and signed by the seizing officers. It could not, therefore, be determined how the unmarked drugs were handled upon confiscation. Evidently, the alteration of the seized items was a possibility absent their immediate marking thereof.

“The processing was not in the presence of Ongpin since at that time, he was brought by police officers to the hospital for medical examination.

“Neither the presence of the insulating witnesses, I.e., representatives from the media or Department of Justice (DOJ) and any elected public officials, required under Sec. 21 of R.A. 9165 because the law requires them to sign the copies of the inventory and to be given thereof, were secured.

“In the case at bar, the prosecutions’ narrative that the apprehending officers were not able to comply with the provisions of Sec. 21 of RA 9165 in view of the peculiar circumstances of the case, i.e., the responding police officers were dispatched to investigate a dead human body (Found Dead Body), not of illegal drugs, is unmeritorious.

“The repeated breach of the chain of custody rule here had cast serious uncertainty on the identity and integrity of the corpus delicti (body of crime). Verily, invocation of the saving clause is unwarranted.

“Here, there was no justifiable ground given by the arresting officers for the absence of the mandatory witnesses in their Joint Affidavit of Witnesses, Affidavit Complaint with Supplemental Joint Affidavit.

“Likewise, there was even no earnest efforts on their part – not even attempts to call through phone call – nearby barangay officials, considering that the Barangay Hall of Barangay Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union is just a few meters from the place of incident.

“WHEREFORE, premises considered, after an independent assessment of the evidence on record which includes Resolution Dated Oct. 18, 2021 and supporting evidence, the Court is constrained to DISMISS Criminal Case No.14154 for lack of probable cause to issue warrant of arrest against accused Julian Roberto Ongpin y Stone, in view of the utter non-compliance of the requirements of Sec. 21 of RA 9165.”

With the order, Judge Agacita also lifted and set aside the precautionary hold departure order issued against Julian.

Prosecutor General Benedicto A. Malcontento said the prosecution will file a motion to reconsider Judge Agacita’s order.