Out of Print

There’s a Bit of Bree Jonson in All of Us

by Sai Versailles

Banner and footer image courtesy of Martin Ledesma
To those who knew the artist, no headline could ever capture the complex truth of her humanity. But there are beautiful traces of it. 

In memoriam: Breana Patricia “Bree” Jonson Agunod, 1991-2021


re you ready?”

Bree Jonson texted Samantha Nicole, who lives in Cubao, Quezon City. Sam is a stone’s throw away from the now-defunct Today x Future – a nightlife institution she ran with her partner, Leah Castañeda. They met Bree on the dancefloor there in 2017 and over the course of their friendship, Cubao was a weekly meeting point.

This text Bree sent was routine – what Sam called “one of her favourite phrases before coming to the house.” In a few days, Bree was to drive up to San Juan, La Union, for her long-awaited artist residency by the beach. So, that evening was like any other. There was food, wine. A nice playlist. Sam is a DJ who is learning to produce music, and Bree asked how her progress was going.

“Where is it?” she nudged. “Can I hear it now?”

“No, Bree! I’m not confident yet. Fuck off!” Sam shrugged with a laugh. She was nosy in that way, Sam told me over a tequila highball. “That was her love language: Checking in and pushing you to do better.”

With their plates clean and vino on hand, Bree turned to her friends. “What else can I do?”

She was referring to her career as an artist, which Bree determinedly worked on since 2012. “I’ve done paintings, video installations, sculptures. What do you think I should do?”

Sam urged Bree to organize an auditory exhibition. Leah disagreed, who thought it should still concern the visual arts.

“No,” Sam insisted. “Imagine how unnerving it is to receive a bad phone call with nothing to rely on but your one sense, on what you just heard. Isn’t that such an unsettling way to evoke your art?”

A few days later, Sam received that phone call. On the morning of September 18, 2021, Bree, aged 30, was found lifeless in San Juan.


A quick Google search of Bree’s name will show a black and white photo of her, frowned and slouched, alongside a mugshot of Julian Ongpin. He is the son of Robert “Bobby” Ongpin, a real estate billionaire and former Marcos cabinet member. Julian was also Bree’s partner — the last person to see her alive.

Autopsy reports indicate Bree died of asphyxia, yet the details surrounding her death are murky. Julian claims she hung herself on the shower curtain rod of their hostel room, where police also found over twelve grams of cocaine.

On October 18, 2021, the Department of Justice charged Julian with non-bailable drug possession. His legal team filed a motion for reconsideration on the basis that local police didn’t follow the “chain of custody” rule. This requires prosecutors to immediately undertake inventory of the confiscated drugs in the presence of the media or a representative of the DOJ, then submit the evidence to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency within twenty-four hours. 

On November 15, 2021, the La Union judge handling Julian’s case granted his motion, dropping the drug charges against him. The DOJ is said to file a motion for reconsideration.

Bree’s family rejects that she would take her own life and according to their legal team, a medicolegal report from the Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center suggests there were signs of struggle – bruises on other parts of Bree’s body besides her neck. Julian’s mugshot also shows scratch marks on his arm, but whether it was from the door he broke open to rescue Bree or her nails as he tried to fight him off remains uncertain.

As of the time of writing, the National Bureau of Investigation continues its probe on the plausible criminal angle to Bree’s death. This means a resolution in the courts, if there will be one at all, is still some time away.

These are the morbid details overwhelming Bree’s presence on the internet – the memorial place many of her loved ones are left with, corrupted by a depraved pain. To those who knew Bree, no headline could ever capture the complex truth of her humanity.

But there are beautiful traces of it, like a snake’s trail slithering through sand dunes.


Sometimes, it takes a long time to learn how to play  like yourself.” – Miles Davis

One morning in December 1990, Salome “Sally” Jonson found out she was pregnant with Bree.

She did what was expected out of any pregnant twenty-year-old at the time. With two more years of veterinary school left, and in fear of her parents’ disapproval, Sally continued her studies. Nobody knew except Joy, her sorority sister, who she stayed with in Los Baños, Laguna, for the duration of her pregnancy. Back then, having children before marriage was a strong taboo. So, on June 22, 1991, Sally married Bree’s father — a calm and collected fellow, named Vincent Agunod.

Just over a month later, on July 25, 1991, Breana Patricia “Bree” Jonson Agunod was born a Leo with pincers, her birthday being five days after Cancer season.

Bree as a young girl. Courtesy of Salome Jonson.

According to her horoscope, Bree’s Mercury – the planet which determines learning and communication – was also in Leo, meaning she had a bold intellect.

At age two, Bree pretended to read one of Sally’s textbooks on the necropsy of animals, albeit upside down. She recounted this story to me over Facebook Messenger: “She went blah, blah, blah – baby talk – and said ‘finish!’ at the end of the page. She smiled, then grabbed another book on microbiology.”

Sally also describes training as a game fowl specialist, requiring her to spend evenings watching SabongTV – a television channel for cockfighting shows. Bree just entered kindergarten. One morning, she detailed how a rooster won fights by leaping in the air with a kick, lodging the metal spurs on its legs into its opponent. Bree’s inquisitiveness often took Sally by surprise, unaware of how much of the world her daughter was absorbing.

By age six, Sally and Vincent’s marriage was falling apart. As an only child, many paint Bree into a trope that is overused in books and films. Yet, no dramatization can ever convey the affliction this trauma carries over. Shrieks and bellows vibrate from the walls of your mind, stretching time into a distressed fabric. In Brian Dillon’s foreword for In The Dark Room, Frances Wilson described the progress of a whisper “as a metaphor for memory: what at the start of a life seems of little impact speaks by the end ‘in volleying thunders.’”

Eventually, Bree moved with her mom to Davao City where she finished high school. Kevin Ansel Dy, a friend and bandmate, described her as “famous,” but in the way you aspire to be in high school. Self-taught on the bass guitar in the age of Paramore and System Of A Down, Bree joined numerous bands until college and prolifically pursued music – arguably her first major creative outlet. 

“Everything you think is uniquely [coming-of-age] is actually pretty textbook,” Kevin said about growing up which, like many of us, involved a desire to cut against the grain.

There is a scene in the film mid90s where twelve-year-old Stevie is hanging out with Reuben, a teenager, inside a skate shop. Reuben offers Stevie his first cigarette, to which he gives his thanks. Reuben rebuts in a way that would – thank goodness – make many parents today shrill: “Don’t thank people,” he said, “they’ll think you’re gay.” Stevie was just a sponge absorbing Reuben’s bullshit – while Rueben is likely suspect of the same problem.

Grappling this dissonance between expectation and reality is how a lot of growing up feels. Yet, many of Bree’s friends noticed how she took life with a grain of salt despite pressures in her family life. During one rehearsal, Kevin lashed out when his band couldn’t keep up with “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin. “The time signatures [for that] are really fucked up and I’m the drummer, so I’m keeping the time,” he recalled. “I was pissed off and threw my sticks ‘cause they couldn’t get it.”

Yet, in the heat of angst and awkwardness, Bree chuckled “kawawa naman si Pearl,” referring to Kevin’s Pearl drum set. What she really meant, in a much kinder way, was “stop taking yourself too seriously, man.”

Bree playing the guitar in college. Courtesy of Lenin Laviña.

I asked Kevin to describe a core memory with Bree that captures her personality. He, Bree, and their other bandmates – Bien Recede and Candice Diao – auditioned for the school prom as The Actor’s Guild. One of the judges was their Christian Living Education teacher who encouraged them to play something upbeat – a synonym for “nonsense” to this group of punks. Before their performance, they huddled together, grinned, and nodded their heads. “Fuck it, let’s play this.”

A beat drops. A saxophone riff swells the auditorium. It’s “Careless Whisper” by George Michael – an ‘80s love ballad immediately signalling a risqué love scene. Bien, the vocalist, slowly unbuttoned his shirt as hordes of students, arriving from their senior-year retreat, twirled their dirty underwear to the cheers of their batchmates. “We were easily the best band, but they didn’t let us play because [they thought] we were too crazy,” Kevin reminisced. 

“But that’s Bree, the rocker chick. It’s hard not to know her.”


On September 19, 2020, a year and a day before she passed away, Bree posted an image on her Instagram with the caption: “Caring as political notion, caring as rebellious act.”

The image was a screenshot of an introductory text to “pirate care” – a concept which takes philosophical notions of piracy, such as sharing and decentralizing information, into grey areas where care is collectively expressed.

Its scholars argue that laissez-faire policies have subjugated basic infrastructures for care, such as healthcare and housing, which alienates society’s most vulnerable. “Care labor holds the capacity to disobey power and increase our collective freedom,” reads one carousel image, “This is why when it’s organized in capitalist, patriarchal, and racist ways, it does not work for most living beings. We are in a global crisis of care.”

When Bree was an undergraduate in Ateneo de Davao University, her industrial engineering thesis explored solutions for increasing productivity. She collected data on the time spent on tasks in an assembly line, hitting the stopwatch on workers in the hopes of minimizing human motion. Through the lens of pirate care, this is the perfect example of its core problem: Industrial societies provide income or “well-being,” only to estrange humans from the being that is their body.

To Bree, society didn’t see the body as an object of care. Rather, it was an object of exploitation, or what she referred to in an interview as “mere units of economic production.” This “awakening” – that bodies were a means to an end – prompted Bree to take control of her own.

“i can keep myself alive.
i will be a better man myself.”

After graduating in 2012, Bree left Davao for Manila under the guise of looking for a nine-to-five. Instead, she enrolled at the UP College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines. Kevin lost touch with Bree after high school and eventually moved to Manila for a job. They reconnected in 2015 after a quick swipe on Tinder. He saw her familiar smirk above the name “Bree Jonson,” suspecting it was a fake profile. That’s until Bree messaged him.


“There were a lot of Kevin’s in high school, so they called me by my surname,” he said. Breana or “Trixie” Agunod – as she was known in Davao – became Bree Jonson, the artist. “It was like she was making up for lost time. Finally meeting people with the same ambitions and sensibilities, I guess she had the urge to remake herself.”

Bree dropped out of UP after a semester but was quick to seize all her chance encounters. She was known as an apprentice under Jason Montinola, who combined Baroque painting techniques with bleak surrealist motifs. She cited Ivan Roxas as another source of inspiration, learning about his impressionistic realism over “sunny afternoons with coffee.”

On the internet, it’s easy to see how these artists influenced Bree, but that is not to say they determined her autonomy. The bridge between Bree’s true self and the superficial understanding of her were the chance encounters she selectively shared with people.

David Loughran is a curator and the co-founder of Emerging Islands, the artist residency in San Juan that Bree was preparing for. Like many of her close confidants, David met Bree on the dancefloor in 2017. “I just approached her and said ‘hi,’ which I don’t normally do,” he recalled. In fact, chance encounters like these informed much of Bree’s wisdom on art.

“There’s an incredible amount of honesty in nightlife. It’s where people sit down and unload,” David explained. “You talk about what’s real and for any artist, that’s a gold mine – especially for Bree, who was a truth seeker.”

Bree dancing at the now-defunct nightclub, XX XX. Courtesy of John Paolo Gonzalez (@midnite.g0d)
To immerse in emotion is to practice self-awareness, which helps articulate experiences. Arlie Hochschild’s concept of “emotional labour,” or the management of feelings to fulfil job requirements, are often explained in relation to caregiving occupations like medical staff and counsellors. Yet, Bree was no stranger to negotiating emotions of care. Reclaiming her identity was perhaps the greatest measure of care she took. Yet, the precariousness of being an artist meant her best foot was always forward – meeting new collectors, organizing shows, and selling artworks – when her body yearned for stillness.  

In 2019, Bree’s solo exhibition Notes on Stillness explored this desire for rest in a portrayal of wild animals, captured between the flux of a hostile existence. In one painting titled Purple Line, two dogs gently gnaw an indistinguishable object. David mentioned how Bree “thought of herself as a dog peering through a bush” and an Instagram post from March 21, 2020, spoke to this with some level of meaning. She quotes On Human Finery by Quentin Bell, who described dogs as more fashionable because they are submissive:

Dogs, much more than cats, can be made objects of conspicuous leisure … rendered completely incapable of fending for themselves and made demonstrable objects of continual expense and care (whoever saw a cat wearing a little coat in the cold weather?)

Sam believes Purple Line represented Bree’s “tug-of-war with the art world.” “It’s so easy to use someone because they’re convenient,” she explained, “[Bree] wasn’t foreign to those struggles, of being objectified.” Loss of control is common amongst successful artists, who feel indebted to the gallery system by endlessly churning out work. “Bree became a public figure without realizing it,” Sam continued, “With that comes a burden of being more of a brand than a person.”

As Bree’s career skyrocketed, the chance encounters – the human connection – she craved dwindled. She evoked this in a prose titled FUCK IS A FOUR LETTER WORD, the exhibition text for a group show at Artinformal in 2020 titled Mga Misteryo Sa Tuwa. She wrote: “Between longing and disgust is true ecstasy. It happens in moments, when the light shifts and puts us in the mood. Love comes in spurts.”

Bree’s iron-willed independence made her believe she could carve out a path on her own. Yet, she knew this was a fallacy – part of the machinery she tirelessly tried to escape. So, wrestling this inner conflict was a source of darkness for her. Bree suffered from anxiety and depression and she overcame this, if only momentarily, by shamelessly accepting care from others.

“I used to have this alarm set at 5 PM every day so I wouldn’t forget to remind her to take her meds,” her former roommate Rae Lim Pineda wrote to me on Telegram. To Rae, her innocuous memories of Bree are the hardest to carry, remembering how she always prepared coffee so they could share a quiet morning before the busyness set in.

In 2020, while stuck in Bataan – which eventually led to the works of her last solo exhibition, ZZYZX – Bree wrote a short story. As if plucked from Jack Kerouac’s meandering mind, the story is told by C. who reminisces on mundane memories shared with an actor named S. Bridges, conjuring Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (“his body upright, slick … each sylable [sic] as melodic as could be, cooing, singing, looking good, looking cool.”)

Bree sent this story to Rae, who now lives abroad, just days before she passed away. “She wrote it for me,” she said, “to get over something I was struggling with. It shows she’s a person that deeply cares – not just for the people in her life, but for what she [believed] in.”

S in the flowers of my imagination, of which its own thorn grows and grows and pierces through. The dead keep dying and none can be done. The entirety of the universe seems to have conspired against me reminding me every shard of a memory shared, as much as S has conspired against me in memories we didn’t share. S is where i don’t want him to be. Every morning i make my coffee on the stove, and while it’s scalding hot i pour it over the cup and i imagine S scalding hot afloat helpless in tbe [sic] river of Styx where he belongs, and each morning each cup of caffeine is a testament of one more day, and days combine into months, turn into years, and then things will get better and there would be no reason to pinch the light from the candle too early, i can keep myself alive, i will be a better man myself.

Bree in her studio. Courtesy of Mark Nicdao.

After Bree’s fortieth day memorial, I sat down with Martin Ledesma behind the DJ booth of OTO in Poblacion. He was Bree’s best friend and former romantic partner. He introduced me to her sometime in 2020 when only the stubborn left their homes.

I didn’t know Bree well at all. Like many acquaintances, my encounters with her were brief, superficial, and happenstance. But talking to Martin might just be the closest I’ll ever get to sharing a real connection with Bree.

One evening, while Bree was still alive, I attended a small gathering in Martin’s apartment.  Rae cheekily asked him what he looks for in a girl, whose banter was pressed between smirks and soft pinches. Bree wasn’t there. By this time, she and Martin remained good friends. It was 2 AM and the lights were dim. Nujabes was playing in the background.

“Do you like them short? Tall? Long hair? Bob cut? What’s your type?” Rae urged.

“It’s not a physical thing,” Martin cooed. “My type is yung parang may mangyayari.”

I asked him what he meant by that as he changed the vinyl record on the DJ booth. “You know, when I have a relationship with someone, parang something interesting is going to happen,” Martin explained. “Not like, ‘Uy, pupunta tayo dito.’ No — something in life is going to happen, like this connection will create experiences.”

He continued, “I don't have to be an artist to talk to you. But how we express ideas to each other, and how you give it back to me … that conversation is like ping pong. Then something happens. It’s a gut feel rin eh when they’re willing to have a conversation, take from your brain, and create a brainchild with it. I’ve given you something and you’re the vessel for it. We can create something new. The only way to keep ourselves alive is through the brain children we’ve made. That’s how I felt with Bree.”

Martin and I played esoteric ping pong and he had a way of turning one-dimensional queries in on itself. “What if time was backwards?” “Are we just a drop in the ocean?” “What am I here for?” “Could I have done something?” Guilt and regret puncture Martin’s memory of the days before Bree’s death. He wondered whether his decision to stay home one night – reassured by their plans, of her new home in San Juan where she, a city girl, and her cat Atlas can finally be in nature – was the tipping point that changed the course of Bree’s life forever.

“How can you blame yourself?” I told him. “Whatever reason you had during that moment was a valid reason for you. Time moves forward, things happen in between, and alters our perspective of the past. That’s how time works, right? It’s non-linear because your understanding of the past will be defined by what’s to come.”

Martin paused; his eyes fixated on the ceiling. “There was a point when I felt like she still wanted to see me somewhere, somehow. Like, she’d see my car and go inside wherever I was.”

He was describing a time he and Bree were broken up. One evening. Inside a club. Bodies slamming. Music blaring. Their eyes met from across the dancefloor. An encounter. He walked up to her, held her close, and whispered in volleying thunders.

“I love and care for you. All I want for you is to be happy and live.”

“We danced a bit and I stepped away,” Martin returned his eyes to mine. “That was a significant moment for me, and maybe for her too."︎

Sai Versailles is a multimedia journalist, currently based in Manila.