A regional trial court in San Fernando City, La Union has granted the appeal of the Department of Justice’s prosecutors to present additional evidence starting Dec. 7 to convince it to reverse its earlier ruling that dismissed the charges of illegal possession of cocaine filed against Julian Roberto Ongpin.
“The presentation of the evidence on the motion is set on Dec. 7,” Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said when sought for updates on the case.
It can be recalled that last Nov. 15, the RTC dismissed the charges against Ongpin, son of businessman and former trade and industry minister Roberto Ongpin, due to the authorities’ failure to follow strictly the guidelines set in the law in the custody of seized illegal drugs.
This prompted the DOJ prosecutors filed a motion for reconsideration and sought for hearing on the motion with a plea to present additional evidence. Judge Romeo Agacita Jr. set the hearing on the motion for reconsideration on yesterday, December 3.
Ongpin’s case arose from the 12.6 grams of cocaine, a prohibit drug, found by the police inside a San Juan, La Union hotel room where he and the late artist Breanna “Bree” Jonson checked in last Sept. 17.
Court records showed that in the morning of Sep 18, Jonson was found “unconscious” and died thereafter. Ongpin became a person of interest in Jonson’s death.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), on orders of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, started a probe.
In dismissing the case, Judge Agacita ruled that the policemen who arrested Julian failed to comply with the provisions of Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Section 21 of RA 9165 imposes a strict compliance with the chain of custody of the seized illegal drugs. It requires that “the seized dangerous drugs must be inventoried and photographed immediately after seizure or confiscation; the physical inventory and photographing must be done in the presence of the accused or his/her representative or
counsel, an elected public official, a representative from the media, and a representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ), all of whom shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy of the same; and the seized drugs must be turned over to a forensic laboratory within 24 hours from confiscation for examination.”
In its numerous decisions, the Supreme Court had ruled that “strict compliance with the requirements is necessary in protecting the integrity and identity of the corpus delicti (body of the crime), without which the crime of the illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt.”
In dismissing the complaint against Ongpin, Judge Agacita pointed out that the Section 21 of RA 9165 “specifically provided that the prohibited drugs be immediately marked by the apprehending officer as soon as they are seized from the accused to prevent the switching, “planting,” or contamination of evidence. Strict compliance with the prescribed procedure is necessary because the illegal drug’s unique characteristic rendering it indistinct, not readily identifiable, and easily open to tampering, alteration or substitution either by accident or otherwise.”
“A careful scrutiny of the Inventory of Evidence Collected discloses that, at the time of the seizure of alleged illegal drugs, the “eight (8) sealed transparent sachet containing white substance” and “ten (10) sealed plastic sachet containing white substance’ were merely marked as ‘JSD-B’ and ‘JSD-A.,” it noted.
“Nowhere in the said Inventory of Evidence Collected is there an indication that plastic sachets were individually marked and signed by the seizing officers. 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.
“The processing was not in the presence of Ongpin since at that time, he was brought by police officers to the hospital for medical examination,” the lower court said.
“Neither the presence of the insulating witnesses, i.e., representatives from the media or Department of Justice (DOJ) and any elected public officials, required under Sec. 21 of R.A. 9165 because the law requires them to sign the copies of the inventory and to be given thereof, were secured,” the RTC added.
In the case at bar, the judge said, the prosecutions’ narrative that the apprehending officers were not able to comply with the provisions of Sec. 21 of RA 9165 in view of the peculiar circumstances of the case, i.e., the responding police officers were dispatched to investigate a dead human body (Found Dead Body), not of illegal drugs, 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 (body of crime). Verily, invocation of the saving clause is unwarranted. Here, there was no justifiable ground given by the arresting officers for the absence of the mandatory witnesses in their Joint Affidavit of Witnesses, Affidavit Complaint with Supplemental Joint Affidavit,” the judge ruled.
“Likewise, 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 Barangay Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union is just a few meters from the place of incident,” it said.