DOJ to take over Ongpin drug rap

Robertzon Ramirez, Ghio Ong - The Philippine Star
DOJ to take over Ongpin drug rap
State prosecutors will handle only the drug possession case since it is the only complaint pending before the court, DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra said yesterday. No charges have been filed in connection with Jonson’s death.
Miguel de Guzman, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) is taking over the preliminary investigation of the illegal drug complaint against Julian Ongpin, the last known companion of artist Bree Jonson, who was found dead at a hostel in La Union.

State prosecutors will handle only the drug possession case since it is the only complaint pending before the court, DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra said yesterday. No charges have been filed in connection with Jonson’s death.

“As justice secretary, I refrain from commenting on or interfering in cases which are still under preliminary investigation. At any rate, the state prosecutors of the DOJ will now take over the preliminary investigation of this case,” Guevarra said. 

“The case has generated a lot of public interest, so I want to make sure that it is handled very well. The prosecutor general as head of my prosecution staff will designate the state prosecutors who will handle the preliminary investigation of the case,” he added. 

Guevarra explained that the transfer of the preliminary investigation to the DOJ was triggered by a request of the regional prosecutor to assure the public of a fair and impartial handling of the case. 

Jonson was found unconscious in a hostel room in La Union and later declared dead in a hospital. She was last seen with Ongpin, a son of billionaire and former trade secretary Roberto Ongpin, who is now considered as a person of interest in the death of Jonson.

The inquest prosecutor of La Union ordered the release of Ongpin, pending the preliminary investigation into the death of Jonson. The Ongpin scion, who has built a reputation for being an art patron, is currently included in the lookout bulletin order of the Bureau of Immigration (BI). 

Under the lookout bulletin order, BI personnel will monitor Ongpin’s movements as he may attempt to leave the Philippines.


Meanwhile, a lawyer representing Jonson’s family will challenge the decision of the La Union provincial prosecutor to release Ongpin despite the drug charge against him.

Lawyer Em Salandanan said the inquest prosecutor’s resolution to free Ongpin pending further investigation was “very questionable.”

In an interview with dzRH on Thursday, Salandanan said they are “looking into filing a motion for reconsideration” of the prosecutor’s decision to release Ongpin.

Her firm Sunga, Salandanan and Ampuan Law Offices previously pointed out that the inquest prosecutor of La Union “resolved to release (Ongpin) on the ground that his apprehension does not allegedly fall under any of the instances where warrantless arrest is allowed.”

Police previously detained and charged Ongpin with possession and use of illegal drugs. He was allegedly caught with 12.6 grams of cocaine in a room at the hostel.

‘Following orders’ 

Ilocos regional police director Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Peralta explained that police officers must follow the resolution of the prosecutor, whom he identified as Braulio Tade, to free Ongpin or they could be charged with arbitrary detention.

Police would wait for Ongpin’s submission of a counter-affidavit as instructed by the prosecutor, Peralta told dzBB yesterday.

“Hindi masasabing nateknikal kami (It cannot be said that our case did not pass legal technicalities),” Peralta said as he reminded the public to respect the prosecutor’s decision in the meantime.

He added that the drug case against Ongpin has been “filed for preliminary investigation.”

Under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, possession of more than 10 grams of illegal drugs could be punishable with life imprisonment. Such offenses should not allow for bail, according to the rules of criminal procedure.

Peralta said investigators might also consider submitting the urine sample from Jonson, which tested positive for cocaine, to help strengthen the drug case against Ongpin.

“I thought the prosecutor was looking into absolute possession of the 12.6 grams of cocaine by (Ongpin). If (Jonson and Ongpin) both tested positive for cocaine, it might pass 100 percent the requirement for possession,” Peralta said.

Peralta also admitted that police had been trying to get in touch with Ongpin again since his participation in the police reenactment last Tuesday.


Salandanan pointed out what she thought were some inconsistencies in the reports detailing how Jonson died.

The police medico-legal report noted that hematomas or bruises were found on Jonson’s arms and back. It was earlier reported that there were no signs on her body hinting that she might have resisted, aside from upward ligature marks on her neck.

The same medico-legal report, Salandanan revealed, said the cause of Jonson’s death was “asphyxiation caused by strangulation injury, allegedly intentional.”

Salandanan added a bra strap could have been used to choke Jonson, according to a police investigator, contrary to previous reports of the alleged use of a cat collar.

“Definitely, the family does not consider suicide as an angle on Jonson’s death. The police report was inconsistent,” she asserted.

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