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Manila Standard : Why Ongpin’s case was dismissed

News & Interviews
20 November 2021

By Emil Jurado | Manila Standard

"This is the only logical outcome for me."

As expected, Judge Romeo Agacita Jr. of San Fernando City, La Union, Branch 27, dismissed the drug charges against Julian Roberto S. Ongpin and ordered the lifting of his hold-departure order.

In a 12-page order, the judge found that SOCO (Scene of the Crime Operatives) filed in their investigation of the crime scene that Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165 or the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002,” could not provide a probable cause for indicting Ongpin. This was because of lapses in the so-called “chain of custody rule,” which would establish the authenticity and integrity of the charge against Ongpin.

The judge was constrained to dismiss the complaint for lack of probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against Ongpin, “in view of the utter noncompliance of Section 21 of RA 9165.”

Section 21 of RA 9165 provides the so-called “chain of custody rule,” where the SOCO would inventory and photograph the scene of the crime, to establish probable cause to indict Julian.

Each link of the chain of custody must be properly established by the prosecution, and the first link is the seizure and marking. Second is the turnover of the illegal drugs seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer. Third, the turnover by the investigating officer to the forensic chemist or laboratory examination, and fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drugs seized by the forensic chemist to the court.

Note that when the SOCO went into the room of Julian and his girlfriend, they found that the sachets of illegal drugs, known as cocaine, were found in a brown or black pouch inside the handbag of Julian’s woman companion. These were not in his possession because at that time Julian was in the hospital for examination. The SOCO did not find the cocaine in the possession of the accused.

And when the SOCO made the inventory and photograph in the scene of the crime, the SOCO did it with just the duty officer of the hostel as a witness when the law requires the presence of the accused or his representative, and an elected officer, a member of the prosecutorial service or a member of the media. Thus, the link of the chain of custody rule was broken and violated.

Nowhere, the court explained, in the said inventory of the evidence collected is there an indication that the plastic sachets were individually marked and signed by the seizing officer. The tribunal added that “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. The court said that the implementing rules and regulations on the chain of custody rule require that the apprehending officers not only simply mention a justification, and not merely mention a justifiable ground, but also clearly state in their sworn affidavit, coupled with a statement on the steps they took to preserve the integrity of the seized drugs.

The court added that there was not even effort on their part - not even attempts to call through phones in the nearby barangay -- although it is just a few meters from the place of the incident. The court found this a critical mistake by the investigating officer to warrant dismissal of the case.

As a lawyer myself, in my previous columns I said I found three elements that could make the court dismiss the case against Ongpin. First was the fact that cocaine, a prohibited drug, was not in the possession of the accused, but in a brown (was it black?) handbag of his girlfriend. This negated the requirement that the illegal drugs should be in the possession of the accused.

Second, that the rule was broken and violated when the SOCO had only one witness - a hostel duty officer, and not the accused or his representative or an elected officer, a member of the prosecutorial service or a member of the media.

Recall also that when the Department of Justice wanted a commitment order from the court for Ongpin’s arrest, Julian was not given the customary 15-day Motion for Reconsideration, which in effect was a violation of due process.

All things considered, the judge had no choice but to dismiss the case against Julian. And rightly so.

There are many things in this case that the DOJ and the police, especially the SOCO, can learn in handling cases of alleged violations of RA 9165.

In short, the case against Ongpin was without probable cause and not beyond reasonable doubt. These give the judge cause for using his discretion to dismiss the case outright.

**

With a Bongbong-Sara tandem “tapos na ang boksing” (the game is over) Santa Banana!

This is something I have been expecting for some time now. Why?

For one thing, it’s the combination of a North and South candidate, which is geographically and demographically ideal.

Note that the Ilocanos do not only come from Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and La Union. Region 2 comprises Cagayan, Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya, and the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR). It also encompasses more than half of Pangasinan, north of Zambales, one-fourth of Tarlac and Nueva Ecihja. Even in Metro Manila, there are Ilocanos (Sampaloc district is largely Ilocanos). In the Visayas, you have the Eastern part, the Romualdezes (note that the former First Lady Imelda Marcos is a Romualdez from Tacloban).

Even in Mindanao, in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and in Davao City, there are Ilocanos. And note that Sara herself is a Cebuana, with the Roas originally being from Cebu province. They only migrated to Davao City.

Santa Banana, with this combination, it’s a formidable winning team. And insider sources tell that the three-million strong Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) is also for the Bongbong-Sara tandem.

I base my analysis on the fact that the Philippines is primarily tribal and regional in culture, custom and tradition.

This early, all poll surveys -- Pulse Asia, Social Weather Stations, street surveys, the Manila Bulletin and Manila Times -- predict Bongbong as the runaway winner in the presidential race. The game is really over this early.

What I cannot understand is that President Duterte is surprised why his daughter Sara opted to run for Vice President when surveys had found her to be leading in the presidential race. Obviously, on the part of the President and Sara, blood is not thicker than water. It’s clear that Sara decides for herself without consulting her father.

Duterte is pushing for Bong Go. He obviously believes Go is presidential timber with his almost 150 Malasakit centers, and all his visits to grant aid to fire, typhoon and flood victims. But the question is: Will Bong Go make a difference in the presidential race?