Remulla III acquitted of illegal drug possession charge
MANILA, Philippines — A Las Piñas City court on Friday acquitted the son of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla of illegal drug possession charge.
In a 34-page decision, Las Piñas City Regional Trial Court Branch 197 Judge Ricardo Moldez II said the prosecution failed to prove the guilt of Juanito Jose Diaz Remulla III for possession of dangerous drugs beyond reasonable doubt.
His acquittal, according to the court, was due to lapses in the legal procedure under Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2022.
This development came only less than three months after Remulla III, 39, was arrested by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Inter-Agency Drug Interdiction Task Group after receiving a parcel containing nearly a kilo of high-grade marijuana or kush on October 11, 2022.
Citing the testimonies of two PDEA intelligence officers, the court explained that Remulla III’s reaction upon receiving the package “was consistent with a person who was not expecting a parcel or package.”
The court also asserted that in a controlled delivery, the mere designation or acceptance of a package containing illegal items is not sufficient to prove that the recipient is involved in unlawful activities.
READ: DOJ chief’s son arrested in P1 million marijuana bust
“Unfortunately, apart from showing that the package or parcel was handed to the accused, the prosecution did not present other evidence to show that the former knew that it contained marijuana. The prosecution failed to show that [the] accused, by receiving the parcel, knew that he was also possessing illegal drugs,” the decision reads.
The court likewise expressed “serious reservations on the integrity and evidentiary value of the dangerous drugs allegedly seized.”
It noted that Customs examiner Gerardo Pascual failed to provide an “unequivocal” explanation behind the handwritten marking – “CAIDTF 9/28/22 Kush” with a signature – on the parcel received by Remulla III as he only insisted that “he was informed about the box” on October 4.
“[I]n the absence of an explanation,” the court says, “it can be reasonably inferred that as early as 28 September 2022, the Customs Anti-Illegal Drug Task Force already had possession of the parcel allegedly containing the marijuana or, at the very least, was aware of its existence.”
The court refused to speculate on the reason why the package was only turned over to Pascual on October 4, but said it “has effectively put into question the identity, integrity and evidentiary value of the purportedly seized dangerous drugs.”
There was also an absence of records to show how the parcel had been handled, stored, and preserved from the time it was discovered, according to the court.
No testimony or proof has likewise shown how the parcel and its contents were preserved from October 4 until it was turned over to the PDEA on October 10, it added.
“The prosecution failed to establish during the ‘detection stage’ or before the parcel allegedly containing the illegal drugs were turned over to the PDEA that precautions were taken to ensure that there had been no change in the condition of the parcel and its contents, and that there was no opportunity for someone not in the chain to have possession of the same during the same period,” the court further explains.
The Las Piñas City RTC said Pascual’s failure to put markings on the parcel – either before or after he opened it – and for only doing so when he turned over the package to PDEA on October 10 made it “unable [to] to discount the possibility of evidence tampering on that occasion.”
It stressed that while the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2022 is silent on the marking requirement, the law finds its significance in illegal drugs cases as it may remove any suspicion of alteration, substitution, or tampering.
“There was no information on how the seized illegal drug was stored after it was examined by the forensic chemist, who handled the specimen for examination, and where the same was kept until it was retrieved and presented in court. Once again, the chain of custody has been compromised,” the court notes.
Section 21 of the Comprehensive Drugs Act of 2002 refers to the so-called “chain of custody” which requires the arresting team having initial custody and control of the drugs to immediately undertake a physical inventory of the confiscated drugs.
The law likewise requires them to take photographs while in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel.
A representative from the media and the Department of Justice and any elected public official must also be present to sign the copies of the inventory, according to the law.
Although this illegal drug possession charge is dismissed, Remulla III is still facing a separate complaint for drug importation and violation of customs law before the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office.
READ: No bail for Remulla son
Both cases – possession of at least 500 grams of marijuana and importation of illegal drugs – carry the highest penalty of life imprisonment under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 since the death penalty was scrapped in 2006.
Pearlito Campanilla, one of the lawyers of Remulla III, expressed confidence that his client’s pending cases “will be given the same treatment as with this case.”
“Today is a day of celebration and thanksgiving for now, that is enough. He may have won in the first, but the battle continues in the second. He is not aware that he will have to struggle to win back his reputation and good name, but that is for tomorrow,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the secretary of Justice, in a chance interview with reporters, maintained that he had not interfered with the case of his son.
He also parroted an earlier sentiment he made when Remulla III was first arrested: “I wish my son further redemption in the future.”
READ: Remulla wishes son ‘further redemption’ after acquittal in drug possession case
‘Due diligence’ in future ops
PDEA, which made critical slip-ups that resulted in the dismissal of the illegal drug possession case of Remulla III, said it respects the decision of the Las Piñas City RTC.
“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 a separate statement.
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