Remulla son walks free after acquittal in P1.3M drug possession case

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (3rd update, 2:07 p.m.) — Juanito Jose Remulla III, son of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, was freed from detention Friday after a Las Piñas court acquitted him of possession of illegal drugs amounting to P1.3 million.

The Las Piñas Regional Trial Court Branch 197 said the prosecution failed to provide evidence that the younger Remulla knew he was receiving a package of illegal drugs and that anti-drug agents committed lapses in the chain of custody of the nearly 900 grams of what authorities said was high-grade marijuana.

“Wherefore, premises considered, accused Juanito Jose Remulla III y Diaz is acquitted of the crime of violation of Section 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, on the ground of reasonable doubt,” read the 34-page decision penned by Acting Presiding Judge Ricardo Moldez II.

The younger Remulla earlier pleaded not guilty to the illegal possession charge.

The court gave weight to the testimonies of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency agents Eduardo Bongao Jr. and Clint Mek-eng who both said that when the parcel containing marijuana was delivered to the younger Remulla, he said he was not expecting any package to be delivered to his residence.

When Bongao, who delivered the package to the younger Remulla, asked if he knew its shipper, Benjamin Huffman, the justice secretary’s son said he did not know him, but will still take the parcel if it is named after him.

“His reactions were consistent with a person who was not expecting a parcel or a package from a certain Benjamin Huffman or from any other person for that matter. They are likewise consistent with a person who is oblivious to the parcel’s contents,” the court said.

It added: “Had it been otherwise, he could have acted differently by receiving the package outright.”

Chain of custody ‘compromised’

The court also raised doubts about the handling of the illegal drugs which was used as evidence against the younger Remulla, saying that the chain of custody was “compromised.”

It pointed out that the parcel containing marijuana had a marking that read “CAIDTF 9/28/22 Kush” with a signature. The court said customs examiner Gerardo Pascual failed to make it clear who had written it and why it was there.

“From the foregoing and in the absence of an explanation, it can be reasonably inferred that as early as 28 September 2022, the Customs Anti-Illegal Drug Task Force (CAIDTF) already had possession over the parcel allegedly containing marijuana or, at the very least, was aware of its existence,” the court said.

“It has effectively put into question the identity, integrity and evidentiary value of the purportedly seized dangerous drugs,” it added, noting that there are no records of how this was handled, stored and preserved from Sept. 28, 2022.

The court said that even if the parcel was discovered on Oct. 4, 2022, there are still “serious doubts” over the integrity and evidentiary value of the package and its contents.

It pointed out that the PDEA never took possession of the parcel after it was opened on that date and that it remained with Pascual, who said that after he took samples from its contents, the package was placed in a “safety cage.”

“There was no evidence how the parcel or the two (2) vacuum packed transparent plastic bags it contained were resealed on that date,” the court said. It added that Pascual did not place any markings on the items on the same date and only did so when it was turned over to the PDEA on October 10.

The court said the prosecution failed to establish that before the parcel was turned over to the PDEA that there were precautions taken to ensure that the package and its contents were not taken into possession by someone not in the chain of custody.

“Because of these, this court is unable to discount the possibility of evidence tampering on that occasion,” it said.

It also scored the lack of details on the custody of the illegal drugs from the time they were turned over to the laboratory up to their presentation in court.

Citing the chain of custody form created on Oct. 11, 2022, the court said Bongao turned over the evidence to chemist Richard Angelo Solis for examination, after which it was transferred to evidence custodian Magella Muñaste and was only retrieved during the hearings on the case.

“There was no information on how the seized illegal drug was stored after it was examined by the forensic chemist, who handled the specimen after examination, and where the same was kept until it was retrieved and presented in court,” the court said.

“The prosecution must establish that the drugs presented in court as evidence are the exact same drugs seized from the accused and examined by the crime laboratory,” it added. “When a court cannot be assured that the drugs presented as evidence are exactly what the prosecution purports them to be, a conviction will not be forthcoming.”

‘Day of celebration, thanksgiving’

Pearlito Campanilla, one of the lawyers for the younger Remulla, told reporters in a chance interview after the court handed out the verdict that they are “pleased” with the acquittal, but acknowledged that it may take some time for his client to earn back his reputation.

“He is not unaware that he will have to struggle to win back his reputation and good name, but that is for tomorrow. Today is a day of celebration and thanksgiving for now,” Campanilla said in the televised interview.

Leaders of progressive groups like Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna noted the speedy trial accorded to Juanito, which they said should have also been given to ordinary people.

“Sana all other long pending cases are as expeditiously decided like that of the young Remulla. While poor families or victims of trumped up charges languish in jail for years, even decades, the young Remulla's case is not even three months old,” Zarate said in a statement.

Campanilla said the trial of the justice secretary’s son was simply in accordance with the Supreme Court rule of dispensing with cases within a period of 75 days.

Juanito still faces a separate complaint before the Pasay City prosecutor’s office for importation of prohibited narcotics. Campanilla said they are confident this will also be dismissed.

This incident prompted some to clamor for the justice secretary to quit, citing his potential influence, but he rejected these calls as he vowed to keep his hands off his 38-year-old son’s case.

In a handwritten letter released to the media following the arrest of his son, the elder Remulla said that Juanito "will have to face his predicament as a fully emancipated child."

"A person should always face the consequences of their actions and I will let justice take its own course," Secretary Remulla said then.

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