Ongpin denies owning, possessing drugs; asks court to dismiss case

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 26 2021 10:32 PM

A mugshot of Julian Ongpin via PNP Police Regional Office 1/file
A mugshot of Julian Ongpin after being arrested for drug possession in La Union on September 18, 2021. The body of artist Bree Jonson was found in the room they were staying in. Photo courtesy of PNP Police Regional Office 1/file

MANILA — The scion of one of the country’s richest tycoons has denied either owning or possessing the pouch where cocaine was recovered, and instead asked a La Union court to dismiss the drugs case against him.

Julian Ongpin, son of former trade secretary Roberto Ongpin, told a La Union court through a motion that there was no basis for prosecutors to file a drugs case against him because he was not in possession of the illegal drugs recovered in a hostel room he and his late girlfriend, Bree Jonson, were staying in.

“The DOJ was unable to present any evidence that accused is the owner, custodian, or possessor, of the black pouch, brown pouch, or white pouch or bag, where the Subject Drugs were supposedly ‘recovered,’” Ongpin’s lawyers said.

“[T]he DOJ had no evidence that the accused had knowledge of the existence of the presence of the pouch and bag where the Subject Drugs were found. What is clear from the evidence is that accused in his Supplemental Counter Affidavit dated 7 October 2021 categorically stated that [T]he pouch and bag depicted in Annex ‘D’ do not belong to me,” they added.

Authorities seized 12 grams of cocaine from a black pouch placed on top of one of the two beds inside Ongpin and Jonson’s hostel room when they responded to the death of Jonson on September 18.

Ongpin claimed Jonson she committed suicide — a claim her family refuted.

Both the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation are still investigating Jonson’s death.

The discovery of the cocaine led to Ongpin’s immediate arrest although he was later released when prosecutors decided to conduct further probe through a preliminary investigation.

The case was transferred to DOJ Manila where prosecutors eventually indicted him for the non-bailable criminal case of possession of illegal drugs.

Prosecutors said that although Ongpin was not in actual possession of the illegal drugs, he could be considered to be in “constructive possession” of the illegal drugs because he had “dominion and control” over the place where it was found.

Prosecutors noted Ongpin and Jonson were the only occupants of the room where cocaine was found, the pouch with the cocaine was on the second bed while the first bed had Jonson’s wallet, and Ongpin himself tested positive for cocaine use, showing he has knowledge of the existence of the illegal drugs.

“The fact [is] that respondent Julian Roberto S. Ongpin was in constructive possession of an item identified as a prohibited drug and he was not authorized by law to possess it and that he freely, knowingly and consciously possessed the said drugs,” prosecutors said in a resolution never made public but which Ongpin’s lawyers heavily-quoted.

“Respondent Ongpin cannot deny that he and Agunod [Jonson] were the occupants of room SV2 since it was him who called the attention of Mr. Niebres about the condition of his girlfriend at the time of the incident. As testified by the complainant and the witnesses, no other individuals were allowed entry inside SV2 after the discovery of the lifeless body of Agunod [Jonson]. The complainant as well as the other witnesses stated that respondent Ongpin repeatedly entered SV2 while they were checking the lifeless body of Agunod [Jonson]. These observations were likewise confirmed in the CCTV footages attached to the record showing respondent Ongpin entering and exiting SV2 on the night of September 18, 2021,” they added.

Ongpin’s lawyers rejected this conclusion.

“[W]hile the DOJ conceded that the Subject Drugs were not in the “actual possession” of the accused, it jumped to the conclusion that that the Subject Drugs where in the ‘constructive possession’ of the accused. This leap in logic and evidence is judicially unacceptable there being a demonstrable absence of any proof that Subject Drugs were in his possession, dominion or control,” they said.

They also said Ongpin had no knowledge about the existence of the illegal drugs.

“Without proof that accused had free and conscious possession of the dangerous drug, or what is referred to as intent to possess or animus possidendi, the DOJ’s claim of ‘constructive possession’ has no factual leg to stand on.

But Ongpin’s 16-page motion neither addressed his positive drug test result nor who could have owned the pouch where the cocaine were found and how it ended up in his and Jonson’s room.

CHAIN OF CUSTODY REQUIREMENT

Instead, his motion raised the authorities’ failure to follow “chain of custody” requirements under Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

Under section 21 of the law, law enforcers are required to follow a certain procedure to ensure the integrity of the illegal drugs seized. An “unbroken” chain of custody of illegal drugs is needed to secure a conviction.

The procedure includes the presence of the accused himself, his representative or counsel, an elected public official, and a representative of the National Prosecution Service or a member of the media.

The DOJ panel of prosecutors justified the failure to comply with the requirements saying it was not a drug operation but a “found dead body” case and the drugs were recovered in the course of processing the scene to determine the cause of Jonson’s death.

Ongpin’s lawyers raised the possibility the illegal drugs could have been planted.

“The DOJ should not have easily been swayed to accept the justification given the high possibility of planting, tampering or alteration of the evidence on account of the absence of the accused in the crime scene during the conduct of the physical inventory and photographing of the Subject Drugs,” they said.

Arguing that DOJ prosecutors should not have immediately filed the drugs case, Ongpin’s lawyers urged the court to require the DOJ to submit additional evidence within 5 days to establish probable cause.

In the alternative, they urged the court to suspend the proceedings and defer issuing a warrant of arrest for Ongpin, claiming he was deprived of his right to contest the findings of DOJ prosecutors through a motion for reconsideration.

Ongpin’s lawyers said they first learned about Ongpin’s indictment through an online news portal on October 18 but had yet to receive a copy of the DOJ resolution indicting him at the time his motion was filed in court.

The drugs case was raffled off to La Union Regional Trial Court Branch 27 Executive Judge Romeo Agacita, who earlier issued a preliminary hold departure order against Ongpin, preventing him from leaving the country.

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