The La Union Regional Trial Court, Branch 27 dismissed the controversial drug case filed by the Department of Justice against Julian Roberto Ongpin.
The court said the failure of police authorities to comply with the mandatory policy in drug cases governing the maintenance of the chain of custody to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of seized illegal drugs and other drug-related items has prompted it to dismiss the drug.
In a 12-page order dated Nov. 15, 2012, presiding judge Romeo Agacita Jr. of RTC, Branch 27, San Fernando City, dismissed the case against Ongpin for violating Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 for lack of probable cause.
“Wherefore, premises considered, after an independent assessment of the evidence on record . . . and supporting evidence, the Court is constrained to dismiss Criminal Case No. 14154 for lack of probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against the accused Julian Roberto Ongpin y Stone, in view of the utter non-compliance of the requirements of Section 21 of RA 9165,” Agacita said, in his resolution.
The lower court also ordered the lifting of the Precautionary Hold Department Order (PHDO) it issued against Ongpin.
“The precautionary Hold Departure Order dated October 8, 2021, issued against the accused . . . is hereby lifted and set aside,” the resolution said.
The court rejected the contention of the prosecution that the apprehending officers were not able to comply with the provision of Section 21 of RA 9165 in view of the peculiar circumstances of the case “is unmeritorious.”
“The repeated breach of the chain of custody rule here had cast serious uncertainty on the identity and integrity of the corpus delicti. Verily, invocation of the saving clause is unwarranted,” the trial court stressed.
“Presumption of regularity does not apply if proper procedure is not observed . . . The failure to observe the proper procedure negates the operation of the regularity accorded to the police officers,” it said.
The court reminded the prosecution and the police officers that to allow presumption of regularity “to prevail notwithstanding clear lapses of established procedure is to negate the safeguards precisely placed by law to ensure that no abuse is committed.”
“As succinctly stated in several cases, the procedure enshrined in Section 21, Article II of RA No. 9165 is a matter of substantive law, and cannot be brushed aside as a simple procedural technicality ; or worse, ignored,” the judge said, citing Supreme Court cases upholding the mandatory compliance of the pertinent provision.
Ongpin was specifically charged with violation of Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2022 after two preliminary investigation hearings by the panel.
The case stemmed from the recovery of 12.6 grams of cocaine in the room that Ongpin shared with his girlfriend 30-year-old Bree Jonson at Flotsam and Jetsam Resort in La Union last September 18.
The cocaine was discovered after authorities responded to a report of attempted suicide at the resort and found Jonson unconscious in a room.
Jonson was brought to the Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center where she was pronounced dead on arrival.
Ongpin claimed that Jonson committed suicide as he found her hanging inside the bathroom, prompting him to seek assistance in bringing the latter to the hospital
Both Ongpin and Jonson reportedly tested positive for illegal drug use. Court records showed that on Sep. 18, 2021 at around 4:00 o’clock in the morning at Flotsam Jetsam Hostel located at Brgy. Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union, security officer Joselito Niebres heard a loud noise of a verbal tussle between a male and female emanating from the 3rd floor of the said hostel followed by the sound of broken glasses.
Niebres immediately proceeded to verify the incident and saw that the jalousie window at the southern side of the private room of Sea View 2 was broken and the debris were scattered at the floor outside the room.
The male person occupying the room opened the main door of the same and told him that her girlfriend has committed suicide.
In the said room, Breana Patricia Agunod, also known as Bree Jonson, was found unconscious and was pronounced dead in a hospital.
Ongpin was eventually charged for alleged possession of 18 sachets of suspected cocaine.
In its ruling, the court found that the sealed plastic sachets allegedly containing white power substances were not marked at the time of its inventory.
“Nowhere in the said inventory of evidence collected is there an indication that the plastic sachets were individually marked and signed by the seizing officers,” the court noted.
The court said, “the only time the individual markings of the sachets were indicated in the submitted evidence was when the request for laboratory examination was made by the SOCO [Scene of the Crime Operatives].”
The court said the Implementing Rules and Regulations on the chain of custody rule require that the apprehending officers “not simply mention a justifiable ground, but also clearly state his ground in their sworn affidavit, coupled with a statement on the steps they took
to preserve the integrity of the seized item.”
Also, the RTC ruled that that “there was even no earnest efforts on their part–not even attempts to call through phone call—nearby barangay officials, considering that the barangay hall of Brgy.
Urbiztondo…is just a few meters from the place of incident.”
Through a petition for review before the office of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Ongpin earlier alleged that the panel had no evidence to support its findings that he was in possession of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine.
The accused argued that the DOJ panel’s resolution and the evidence relied upon only proves that “the pouch where the cocaine was recovered was placed on the second bed.”
Ongpin pointed out that the panel was not even incisive enough to notice that the drugs were not among his recovered belongings.
He attached some pictures taken during the crime scene investigation, as he stressed that the alleged drugs were in a bag that contained medication of Jonson, who was found unconscious in a hostel room in La Union and was pronounced dead in a hospital.
Ongpin also accused the panel of ignoring the alleged gross and substantial violation of the chain of custody rule by the authorities.