Son of Philippine justice secretary acquitted on drug charges

Basilio Sepe and Jeoffrey Maitem
Son of Philippine justice secretary acquitted on drug charges Philippine Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla presents a document during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Manila, Oct. 21, 2022.
YouTube screengrab

A Philippine court freed the son of the country’s justice secretary Friday, acquitting him of drug possession charges three months after his arrest when officers seized marijuana during a sting operation.

A political activist group complained that the swift trial and release of Juanito Jose Diaz Remulla III, who was taken into custody on Oct. 11, occurred in a country where even petty crimes usually take years to be settled in courts.  

Trial Court Judge Ricardo Moldez II, in Las Piñas city south of Manila, dismissed the prosecution’s drug possession case against Remulla, the son of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, who had sought to distance himself from the case. 

After news of the arrest broke in October, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that his justice secretary should not resign. For his part, Jesus Crispin Remulla assured the Filipino public that he would not interfere in his son’s case and would “let justice take its own course.”

Customs police arrested the younger Remulla, 38, during a sting operation in southern Metro Manila involving the controlled delivery of a confiscated shipment of marijuana valued at $22,000 (1.3 million pesos). 

In a 34-page decision, Moldez pointed to several lapses on the part of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) operative who handled the shipment. The judge said that the parcel was not properly marked and there was no proof it was meant for Remulla. 

While the court noted that drug enforcers enjoyed the presumption of regularity in performing their duties, it “cannot prevail over the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent. 

“This is especially true when there are unexplained lapses such as those present in this case,” according to the ruling obtained by BenarNews, adding that “glaring lapses and or irregularities” had effectively destroyed the presumption of regularity in the police operation. 

Remulla III has denied that the drug shipment of about one kilo of a hybrid strain of marijuana known as kush, and originating from California, was his.

In the ruling, Moldez said the mere designation or acceptance of a package containing illegal items wasn’t enough to prove that the recipient was involved in unlawful activities. 

“The prosecution failed to show that [the] accused, by receiving the parcel, knew that he was also possessing illegal drugs,” the judge said. 

The court also noted that as early as September, the Customs Anti-Illegal Drug Task Force already possessed or was at least aware of the existence of the parcel that allegedly contained illicit drugs. That package was not turned over to a customs examiner until Oct. 4. 

“Because of this, this Court is unable [to] to discount the possibility of evidence tampering on that occasion.”

On Friday, the PDEA issued a statement accepting the verdict.

“With utmost respect to the court’s decision, PDEA will carefully study the reasons behind the exoneration and exercise due diligence in the conduct of similar operations in the future. The court has seen both sides of the case and is in the best position to rule over the merits,” it said in the statement posted on Facebook.

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Front-running presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (center) talks to Juanito Victor “Jonvic” Remulla (right) and Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla (standing behind him to the left) after his meeting in Manila with politicians who shifted political support to his camp, April 29, 2016. Jesus Crispin Remulla now serves as Philippine Justice Secretary. [Bullit Marquez/AP Photo]
Reputation tarnished

Defense attorney Pearlito Campanilla told reporters that Remulla III and his family welcomed the acquittal but said that the arrest had tarnished his client’s reputation. 

“He has to contend not only in the legal battle in court, but also with the equally debilitating battle of public opinion. He may have won in the first, but the battle continues in the second,” Campanilla said. 

Renato Reyes, secretary general of political activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, described the swift resolution of the case as reflecting a wide disparity in how court cases are handled in the Southeast Asian nation. 

“He got a speedy trial, and his case was resolved within 75 days. Many others, especially the poor, are not so fortunate. And that is what is wrong with our justice system,” he said. 

The acquittal came days after Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. called for the voluntary resignations of all national police colonels and generals, saying that illegal drug syndicates may have corrupted the force’s senior leaders. 

Abalos’ stance ended the protection enjoyed by police officials in the last six years under former President Rodrigo Duterte who directed the national police to carry out his war on drugs that killed thousands of Filipinos, mostly from poor communities.  


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