DOJ To Appeal Ongpin Case Dismissal Before La Union Court

Julian Roberto Ongpin (Photo courtesy of PNP)

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) will ask the La Union Regional Trial Court (RTC) to reconsider its ruling dropping the illegal drug charges against Julian Ongpin, the 29-year-old son of a billionaire and former government official.

In a message to reporters, Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said they may file the motion next week.

The 12-page order on Monday by City of San Fernando, La Union RTC Branch 27 Judge Romeo Agacita Jr. dismissed the criminal case against billionaire son Julian Ongpin due to the “non-compliance” of authorities to the Chain of Custody Rule under Section 21 of the Republic Act 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act.

Agacita also lifted and set aside the precautionary hold departure order against Ongpin.

Judge Agacita said he is constrained to dismiss the case for lack of probable cause to issue warrant of arrest against Ongpin due to the failure of authorities to preserve the integrity of the evidence against the latter as mandated under Section 21 of RA 9165.

“In the case at bar, the prosecution’s narrative that the apprehending officers were not able to comply with the provision of Sec. 21 of RA 9165 in view of the peculiar circumstance of the case, i.e., the responding police officers were dispatched to investigate a dead human body…not of illegal drugs, is unmeritorious,” the order read.

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

Newly appointed Philippine National Police chief Dionardo Carlos also said in a news channel interview on Tuesday that they would review the Ongpin case.

Ongpin, son of billionaire businessman and  former Trade secretary Roberto Ongpin, was specifically charged with violation of Section 11 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2022 after two preliminary investigation hearings by the panel.

The case stemmed from the recovery of  12.6 grams of cocaine in the room that Ongpin shared with his girlfriend, 30-year-old Bree Jonson at Flotsam and Jetsam Resort in La Union last September 18.

The cocaine was discovered after authorities responded to a report of attempted suicide at the resort and found Jonson unconscious in a room.

Jonson, 30, was found unconscious and later declared dead in a hospital.

The autopsy report declared asphyxia as cause of death and she was found positive for cocaine use. Ongpin was also found positive for illegal drug use.

Ongpin claimed that Jonson committed suicide as he found her hanging inside the bathroom, prompting him to seek assistance in bringing the latter to the hospital.

Ongpin said the panel had no evidence to support its findings that Ongpin was in actual possession of the subject illegal drugs and merely said that he had “constructive possession” of the illegal drugs.

PNP investigation

Carlos said he has instructed Maj. Gen. Omega Jireh Fidel, Director for Investigation and Detective Management, to review the records and determine where possible lapses were committed.

“We want to know which aspect of the case may have been overlooked to preclude similar situations in other police operations,” Carlos said in a press briefing.

Carlos also directed the PNP Legal Service in Region 1 to coordinate with the La Union Provincial Prosecutor in filing a motion for reconsideration.

“Kapag may nadi-dismiss (When a case is dismissed), there is an automatic review of the case. However, you have to understand the circumstances kaya tinanong ko (so I asked), was it an anti-drug operation? So incidental to the call for police assistance, a dead body was found and during the police assistance, there were drugs. So the requirements to handle that ay tinitingnan namin kung may pagkukulang ‘yung (we’re looking into those to determine if there were lapses on the part of the) first responder,” Carlos said.

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