La Union court clears Julian Ongpin of drug charge

A court in La Union junked the drug charge against Julian Ongpin, son of Marcos-time trade secretary and business tycoon Roberto "Bobby" Ongpin.

Prosecutor General Ben Malcontento confirmed the decision, and said the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecution will file a motion for reconsideration.

The local court also lifted the precautionary hold departure order (PHDO) against the Ongpin scion.

Ongpin was caught with more than 12 grams of cocaine when his hostel room in La Union was inspected by the local police after his companion, artist Bree Jonson, was found dead there.

The La Union police did not arrest Ongpin even though being caught with illegal drugs is a valid ground for warrantless arrest.

The DOJ's state prosecutors eventually charged Ongpin. Possession of 12 grams of cocaine is a non-bailable offense under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, but a warrant of arrest was not issued by the La Union Court, instead it dismissed the case in the said decision.

The La Union Regional Trial Court Branch 27 junked the charge for failure of the local police to follow the law's rule on how to preserve and mark the evidence in drug cases.

According to Branch 27 Judge Romeo Agacita, the police did not immediately mark the sachets of cocaine when they were seized on September 18.

The judge said the police merely marked the two pouches containing the cocaine, and not the sachets itself.

"It could not, therefore, be determined how the unmarked drugs were handled upon confiscation. Evidently, the alteration of the seized items was a possibility absent their immediate marking thereof," said the 12-page decision promulgated Monday, November 15.

In 2018, the Supreme Court in the landmark decision People vs Lim directed that drug cases that did not follow the proper preservation of evidence shall be dismissed. 

The decision was also seen as a way to avoid situations where cops can plant evidence in the bloody drug war, President Rodrigo Duterte's centerpiece campaign now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for extrajudicial killings.

It now benefits a billionaire's scion, where the judge said the police cannot enjoy presumption of regularity.

"Presumption of regularity does not apply if proper procedure is not observed," said the judge.

There were also no required witnesses like a representative of the DOJ or a member of the media.

"No earnest effort was shown to comply with the provision of Section 21 of RA 9165; the saving clause under Section 21 finds no application considering the glaring non-compliance of the law," said Judge Agacita.

The judge also noted that Ongpin was not present when his hostel room was inspected and where the cocaine was seized.

"As such, the chain of custody rule was patently violated," said the judge. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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