Court junks drug case vs Julian Ongpin over lapse in evidence custody

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Court junks drug case vs Julian Ongpin over lapse in evidence custody
File photo shows Julian Ongpin.
The STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:23 p.m.) — The La Union trial court has dismissed the possession of illegal drugs case against Julian Ongpin, son of tycoon Roberto, due to non-compliance with the rule on chain of custody.

Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento confirmed this in a message to reporters, and added the prosecution panel will appeal the case dismissal.

In a ruling on Monday, La Union Regional Trial Court Branch 27 Presiding Judge Romeo Agacita Jr. said: "Wherefore, premises considered, after an independent assessment of the evidence on record…and supporting evidence, the Court is constrained to dismiss" the charge.

The court also ordered the lifting of the precautionary hold departure order against Ongpin.

Ongpin is a person of interest in the death of artist Bree Jonson, who was found lifeless in September in the room that they shared in a La Union hostel.

The judge said it the court was constrained to dismiss the case "for lack of probable cause to issue warrant of arrest against [Ongpin], in view of utter non-compliance of the requirements of Sec. 21 of [Republic Act 9165]."

Section 21 defines Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment.

Chain of custody rule

State prosecutors on October 21 indicted Ongpin for possession of cocaine under Section 11 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

The court said that to sustain a conviction for illegal possession of dangerous drugs, it should be established that the accused was in possession of the prohibited drug; such possession was not authorized by law; and the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug.

Requirements of the custody and disposition of the illegal drugs is contained in Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, but the court noted: "Applying the abovementioned parameters and existing jurisprudence, the evidence on record readily manifests blatant non-compliance with the chain of custody rule."

In the case against Ongpin, authorities who were investigating the death of his companion Bree Jonson allegedly found more than 12 grams of cocaine in the room they shared.

The court pointed out that neither Ongpin or his legal counsel or representative; or witnesses from the Department of Justice or the media or elective official — as required under Section 21 of the law — were present during the marking and inventory of the seized items.

Ongpin was not present during the processing of the room where the drugs were found since he was then brought to the hospital for medical examination.

The court disagreed with the prosecution that Section 21 of the law will not apply if drugs were seized during a death investigation. It stressed: "Section 21 of RA 9165 apply as long as there has been seizure and confiscation of drugs."

The court said that while Scene of the Crime Operatives were at the place of the incident to conduct a probe into the death of Jonson, Ongpin’s companion, it should have been converted into a "suspected illegal drugs" immediately.

"At that instance, upon purported discovery of the substance in question, contained in several plastic sachets, the authorities should have immediately observed compliance with the procedural requirements under Sec. 21 of RA 9165," it said.

The court said the arresting officers did not give justifiable ground for the absence of witnesses, and did not exert earnest efforts to reach to barangay officers.

"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 the crime]. Verily, invocation of the saving clause is unwarranted," the court added. — with report from The STAR/Iris Gonzales

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