Jonson kin lament delayed autopsy on Bree, reported release of Julian Ongpin

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Jonson kin lament delayed autopsy on Bree, reported release of Julian Ongpin
Filipino contemporary artist Bree Jonson (left) was known for her 'bizarre and otherworldly' artworks (right), which included paintings, sculptures and a collaboration for a local fashion magazine (right).
Bree Jonson via Instagram

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2; 8:54 p.m.) — The family of deceased artist Bree Jonson is questioning the early release of 29-year-old Julian Ongpin, who was arrested for possession of drugs after cops said they found cocaine in the hostel room where Jonson was found. 

Jonson, 30, was found unconscious in a room in San Juan, La Union early Saturday morning and later declared dead on arrival at the Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center, local police confirmed to Philstar.com early Monday.

Ongpin, an art patron, is the son of former trade minister Roberto Ongpin, who is chair of property developer Alphaland.

Sources familiar with the situation told Philstar.com in a phone call that Ongpin had already been released by the San Juan police. Police Maj. Gerardo Macaraeg, chief of the San Juan police station, declined to comment on the reported release.

Police Lt. Col. Abubakar Mangelen, information officer of Police Regional Office 1, confirmed that two counts of violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 were filed against Ongpin.

"I can't confirm [if he is still in detention] because we weren't the investigating unit...right now we are waiting for the results of the autopsy of the victim's cadaver to support other cases we can file against the suspect."

Jill Palarca, Jonson's cousin, said in an interview that they do not know how Ongpin was released despite the complaints against him.

"We are asking the authorities to give us a full report as to why he was released. Of course, the family feels disappointed because we don't know the entire story."

"Until everything is in place, we hope that all people involved should be available for questioning...we're just disappointed that the matter has developed while the autopsy has not yet been done. We are just surprised and we hope it will not affect the case."

Possession of drugs is a non-bailable offense in the Philippines.

According to an Inquirer report, police found that Ongpin and Jonson arrived at the hostel at 8:30 p.m. on Friday.

They were fetched by friends at 10 p.m., but a commotion was recorded on camera where the two appeared to be drinking after they got back in the early morning hours.

Still no autopsy days later

San Juan town police chief Macaraeg said Monday morning that no cause of death had yet been concluded because no autopsy has been done on the artist's remains. 

Police Lt. Col. Mangelen of PRO1 could not give a timeline either on when a cause of death might be determined. "We hope the family will let us conduct an autopsy," he said.

According to Salome, Jonson's mother, the family was not given a definite date for the autopsy by the Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center.

They described it as "paperwork, red tape, doctors suddenly not available, and a lot of miscommunication" as the autopsy was repeatedly pushed back.

Salome said they were given a number of reasons — they were told that resident doctors were sick and that representatives of the National Bureau of Investigation who had to be present at the autopsy were still on their way to the province. 

"Even for us, we're at a loss. We really don't know what to believe in anymore...we're hearing things, but we can't confirm them...we're still seeking answers for all these questions," Palarca told Philstar.com in a phone call.

Both Salome Jonson and Palarca mentioned that the family has been kept in the dark as authorities mostly coordinated with other relatives. 

Salome said that she waited all weekend from her quarantine room in a hotel in Pasay with no autopsy being done on her daughter's remains.

"We're not saying [the delays were] intentional, but because of the heinousness of what happened, we would have wanted a quicker process. If only they considered the humanitarian urgency of the case instead of going through the usual routes," Palarca said. 

"This would have been better if the right people made a quick decision to expedite the process when there was a decaying body at hand. We won't get accurate answers with every second that it decays."

Jonson's cadaver autopsy may push through anywhere from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday night, according to the last communication sent to the family. 

Family pleads for quarantine exemption

All the while, Salome, who was vaccinated in Vancouver, Canada with AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs, said that she was required to quarantine in her hotel room until September 30 as news of the investigation came in from relatives. 

"I could have gone there or when the body is transported here, attend the wake of my daughter, but I'm in quarantine," she said. 

She said she also wrote the Bureau of Quarantine from her hotel room asking for relief but has so far not gotten a response. 

"My travel to the Philippines to Manila was on emergency because my daughter passed away and the case is under investigation for homicide," the letter she wrote to the Bureau of Quarantine reads. 

"I am reaching out to you for a seven-day quarantine request, with swab test on the fifth day so I can make arrangements [for] the allowed two-day wake of my daughter once the autopsy is done today or tomorrow."

Addressing the BOQ, she pled: "Is there any other way to reach out to you? I am respecting the policies [and] I explained...but I want to be with my daughter."

Silence so far from PNP

Police have been mum on the issue despite numerous requests for comment.

Philstar.com reached out to Police Col. Jonathan Calixto, provincial director of the La Union Police Provincial Office, but he has yet to respond as of this post.

Police Brig. Gen. Ronnie Olay, PNP spokesperson, also has not responded to requests for comment.

"I know my daughter was a very independent and strong person. So I didn't worry even if I was far away," Salome said.

"I feel so angry, frustrated, devastated, and brokenhearted. Everything a mother can feel for her child, especially given the circumstances."

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