Jonson kin questions PNP 'red tape' in release of organs to NBI

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Jonson kin questions PNP 'red tape' in release of organs to NBI
Photo shows late artist Bree Jonson

MANILA, Philippines — The family of late artist Bree Jonson and their legal counsel urged the Philippine National Police to review its standard operating procedures as they recounted "red tape" they were made to go through in the ongoing investigation. 

Jonson, 30, was found unconscious in a hostel room in San Juan, La Union, in mid-September before she was declared dead on arrival at a local hospital. She and her companion Julian Ongpin, son of billionaire Roberto Ongpin, tested positive for drug use. 

With the National Bureau of Investigation starting its own investigation, Jonson's family reported last week that the NBI crime laboratory said Jonson's organs were missing after the PNP failed to turn them over for examination.

Dr. Sally Jonson, the victim's mother, questioned the PNP's procedures after she said their lawyers went to Camp Crame with an NBI agent to retrieve the organs only to discover that they had "been cut up."

"They cannot talk down to me and imply that I do not understand such things. If the organs are missing then there is obviously a flaw in their procedure," Jonson said in a statement sent to Philstar.com.

"The NBI is still not done with their autopsy, therefore the PNP should not have done this. Now, the NBI is trying to figure out the bits and pieces of my daughter's organs."

The pushback comes after Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP chief, on Sunday attributed the allegations of missing organs to Jonson's family misunderstanding procedure.

"The PNP is not causing any unreasonable delay in the process of investigating Jonson’s death," he said in mixed Filipino and English in the statement sent to reporters. 

'Misinterpretation of procedures'

Eleazar said that the camp of the Jonson family met with officials of the PNP Crime Laboratory on Friday, October 1, where "the NBI Medico-Legal admitted that they have seen the organs except that they could not decipher or distinguish clearly where the heart tissues are."

"It was clearly explained that although some of the internal organs were removed, they were immediately returned to the abdominal cavity after tissue samples were taken as part of the protocol in the conduct of autopsy," he said. 

"This means that even before the public statement made by the family of Bree Jonson on this issue, this matter was already clarified in the presence of their lawyers."

But the Jonson family pointed out that three days before the meeting, the PNP explicitly denied their request for the organs to be turned over to the NBI. 

"To be clear, there was no misunderstanding much less a misappreciation of the issues on the part of Bree's family," they wrote. 

A letter by Police Brig. Gen. Pascual Muñoz, director of the PNP Crime Lab, shows the PNP rejected the family's request and told them to secure a court order first before they could turn over evidence.

The letter acknowledges that major organs, including Jonson's trachea, heart, and stomach were removed from her body. 

The letter was dated September 28, days before the October 1 meeting. 

"Please be informed that tissue samples, like other pieces of evidence under the custody of the unit, shall not be released or transferred to another person or Office without appropriate order/resolution before the concerned court," Muñoz said in the letter, a copy of which was acquired by Philstar.com.

A statement from Sunga Salandanan and Ampuan Law Offices, the family's legal counsel, said that the organs were only released when the family personally reached out to Eleazar, who then issued the order.

"It was only after Mrs. Jonson urged PGen Eleazar on the propriety of turning over the organs, and after public pressure was apparent, that the instruction to release them was made," they said, questioning why the initial rejection had taken place despite the NBI requesting the evidence. 

"It was because of the PNP's initial stance not to release the organs without a court order that made Bree's grieving family publicly seek for help."

What happens now?

The PNP's own autopsy on Jonson's remains was already delayed for days and the investigation into her death has been slow.

Regional police said that the initial finding is that Jonson died of asphyxia or loss of oxygen. But they could not say what caused this. 

San Juan police filed complaints against Ongpin in connection with the confiscated illegal drugs and a positive drug test, but the La Union Provincial Prosecutors’ Office later ordered his release. Ongpin remains free despite facing criminal raps.

The family's lawyers said earlier that the initial medico-legal report of Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center showed signs of struggle. 

Police officials have adopted Ongpin's narrative that the scratches on his arm were caused by nails on the window of the bathroom where he claims Jonson tried to commit suicide. 

Earlier Monday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra disclosed that the NBI has already sent a summons to Ongpin as the agency continues its probe.

"I don’t understand your so-called system. You had to make us go through red tape when all the while you can exercise your political will to expedite this matter," Jonson's mother said addressing Eleazar. — with a report from Kristine Joy Patag

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