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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 24, 2004

HPU student charged in Philippine official's death

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

A 22-year-old Hawai'i Pacific University student has been accused of reckless homicide and is not being allowed to leave the Philippines following a traffic wreck this month that killed an adviser to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, police there said.

Jason Ivler, left, with his half brother Colby, mother Marlene Aguilar, stepfather Steve Pollard and half sister Maya.

Ivler family photo

Jason Ivler, a junior psychology major at HPU, was driving a Toyota Prado Land Cruiser that smashed head-on into an Isuzu Trooper carrying Undersecretary Nestor C. Ponce Jr., the president's assistant for resettlement, said Sgt. Arnold Gramje, a public affairs officer with the Philippine National Police.

Also in the Isuzu were Ponce's wife, Evangeline, and their driver, Gramje said. Both have since been released from the hospital, police said. The wreck occurred at 5:30 a.m. Aug. 8 in Pasig City.

Witnesses said Ivler lost control of his vehicle before it crossed the median and hit Ponce's van, police said. Philippine National Police Inspector Johnathon Pablito said yesterday that investigators do not believe alcohol or drugs played a role in the wreck.

Ivler was charged with reckless homicide by Pasig prosecutors Aug. 10, police said. His initial court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 7.

Ivler has been a student at HPU for more than a year, after transferring from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He is an American citizen, born in Massachusetts.

His stepfather, Steve Pollard, a senior economist with the Asian Development Bank, and his mother, Marlene Aguilar, live outside Manila. Pollard lived in Kailua for five years before taking his current job.

Ivler was arrested by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine equivalent of the FBI, as he tried to catch a ferry bound for Malaysia Aug. 17, police said. Agents of the NBI and the Bureau of Immigration arrested Ivler in Zamboanga City onboard the M/V Mary Joy II passenger ship.

Pablito said Ivler is free on bail of 30,000 Philippine pesos (about $536), but immigration officials have issued an order preventing him from leaving the country.

Police said Ivler's arrest came after authorities learned from immigration officials about his plan to flee to Malaysia, police said.

According to the Philippine National Police, Ivler was trying to slip out of the country escorted by three PNP officers, including a police colonel.

Pablito said he did not know how the PNP officers knew Ivler, but said they were acting independently of the department.

Police said Ivler's police escorts initially refused to turn him over to immigration officers. They gave in only when NBI agents informed the group that Ivler was forbidden from leaving the country by an immigration order, police said.

"Those people (with him), a colonel and a chief inspector, they did not have any orders from higher-ups; they were there on their own," Pablito said.

Pablito said the officers who accompanied Ivler face criminal charges.

The death of Ponce and the arrest of an American have sparked sensational news coverage in the Philippines.

Ivler said that after he was arrested, a guard came to fetch him from his cell, he was led into an office and when the door opened, the Philippine press was there to meet him.

"I went into the office and it was like an ambush; every channel you could think of was there," Ivler said. "Two NBI agents stood behind me and the director in front of me and they just read a statement, making me look 10 times worse than had they heard my side of the story."

Pollard, Ivler's stepfather, said the young man tried to flee because he feared being killed.

"He was trying to escape for his life," Pollard said. "We have in writing that Ponce's family and friends are seeking retribution."

Pablito said he had heard about Ivler's family's concern over possible retribution and given the high-profile nature of the case, he understands their anxiety. But, he said that any retribution that the Ponce family might seek would be strictly limited to legal channels.

"It is all legal, in legal means," he said. "We have not come across any vigilante thing."

Precy Ponce, the crash victim's sister, told Today newspaper that her family will take all legal means to ensure Ivler is held responsible for his actions and will trust everything to the court.

According to Nestor Mantaring, deputy director of the NBI, local police in Pasig City are handling the accident investigation. Mantaring said Ivler and his lawyers claim a third car hit Ponce's before Ivler's did, and that investigators are trying to assess the validity of the claim.

Ivler's mother and stepfather said that, since the accident, the family's phones have been tapped and threats have been made against their son.

"He's never had any criminal case against him in his life," said Marlene Aguilar, who is the sister of Philippine musician Freddie Aguilar. "We're awaiting for arraignment, and my job is to keep my son alive."

Pollard said that after the accident a hospital refused to treat Ivler, and a hospital official told the family that the facility was full. The family then drove Ivler to another hospital, Pollard said.

A day after the accident, while Ivler lay in a hospital bed recovering from leg and back injuries, police officers showed up in his hospital room, Pollard said. Pablito said PNP officials believed Ivler should be guarded because of all the publicity.

Ivler's family maintains that while Ponce's death is tragic, Ivler was involved in a traffic accident, nothing more.

"We've lost a lot of sleep," Pollard said. "How do you handle the emotions of death and fear of your own son's security and safety, and deal with the police?"

Added Ivler: "Everything just got put on hold for a court date, and then God knows what is going to happen."

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com