‘Lapses’ in drug case lead to Remulla son acquittal
A Las Piñas City court on Friday acquitted Juanito Jose Remulla III of illegal drug possession, ruling that prosecutors were unable to prove that the son of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla knew he was going to receive a package of illegal drugs and intended to keep them, and that there were lapses in the chain of custody of the evidence against him.
Remulla, the eldest son of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, is facing a separate charge of drug importation and customs violation with the Pasay City prosecutor that has not been resolved.
“I wish my son further redemption in the future,” the justice chief said in a statement following the court’s decision. Remulla had said in a handwritten statement that he would not intervene in the case.
“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,” said Ricardo Moldez II, the Las Piñas City Regional Trial Court Branch 197 acting presiding judge in his 34-page ruling.
“When there are glaring lapses or irregularities on the part of the law enforcers, the presumption of regularity usually accorded to [them] is effectively destroyed or immediately negated,” the ruling said.
It also quoted a Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutional protection of the right of an accused to be presumed innocent “against any manner of high-handedness from the authorities, however praiseworthy their intentions.”
“Those who are supposed to enforce the law are not justified in disregarding the right of the individual in the name of order. Order is too high a price for the loss of liberty,” the trial court said.
Remulla was arrested by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Oct. 11, 2022, at Talon Dos in Las Piñas after he received a package containing close to a kilo of “kush,” or high-grade marijuana, worth P1.3 million.
PDEA reported the arrest two days later without any explanation for the delayed public disclosure that often quickly follows a high-profile drug bust.
In all, Remulla spent 87 days in detention, including 63 days at Las Piñas City Jail awaiting the court’s decision after his Nov. 4, 2022, arraignment.
Four hours after his acquittal was announced, he walked out of the jail house wearing a black shirt, short pants and slippers.
His face was covered with a medical mask and dark sunglasses under a gray cap. He did not speak as he headed straight to a black SUV that came to pick him up.
His arrest followed a “controlled delivery” operation by PDEA and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Inter-Agency Drug Interdiction Task Force.
In such an operation, an illegal drug shipment is monitored under supervision by an antinarcotics officer until the owner or the consignee takes possession of it for the purpose of determining who are involved in the shipment.
Not expecting parcel
“[There is] no clear evidence that [the] accused had freely, consciously and with full knowledge possessed the alleged seized illegal drugs,” the court said.
The court cited the testimony of prosecution witness Eduardo Bongao Jr., a PDEA intelligence officer, who testified that he posed as a postal service personnel when he delivered the package to Remulla.
He told Bongao that he was not expecting any package and that he did not know a certain Benjamin Huffman, the supposed shipper of the contraband, but agreed to receive the parcel because it was addressed to him. Bongao’s testimony was corroborated by PDEA agent Clint Mek-eng.
The court said that Remulla’s reactions were “consistent with a person who is oblivious to the parcel’s contents,” otherwise, he would have just received the package outright.
“In a controlled delivery, the mere designation as the consignee or even the acceptance of a package containing illicit items, by itself, is not enough to show that the recipient is engaged in an unlawful activity,” the court added.
It also noted that apart from showing that Remulla received the parcel, for which he was promptly arrested by Bongao and Mek-eng, the prosecution did not present other evidence to prove that he knew it contained illegal drugs.
Pearlito Campanila, one of the lawyers for Remulla, told reporters outside the courthouse on Friday that the package was addressed to a “Juanito Remulla,” which was “very much different” from his client’s full name that appeared on a driver’s license, Juanito Jose III, showed to the “postal service men.”
The court also said it had “serious reservations on the integrity and evidentiary value” of the alleged kush that was seized, saying that PDEA did not follow strict chain of custody requirements, and that no witnesses were called for the inventory of the drug package.
The court noted that the box containing two plastic bags with 893.91 grams of kush had a handwritten marking that read “CAIDTF 9/28/22 Kush” along with a signature.
When asked in court on who made the markings, customs examiner Gerardo Pascual failed to give an answer and only insisted that he was informed of the package only on Oct. 4, 2022. The court said it could be “reasonably inferred” that as early as Sept. 28, 2022, the Customs Anti-Illegal Drug Task Force, or CAIDTF, already had possession of the parcel or “at the very least, aware of its existence.” It added that it would not speculate on why it took four days before the package was turned over to Pascual.
There also were no records of how the parcel was handled, stored and preserved between Sept. 28, 2022 and Oct. 4, 2022 the court said.
PDEA did not immediately take possession of the package after it was opened by Pascual, who testified that he had taken samples and then put the box inside a “safety cage.”
“There was no evidence how the parcel or the two vacuum-packed transparent plastic bags [the box] contained were resealed on that date,” the court said.
There were also no records of the custody of the package from the time it was turned over to the laboratory on Oct. 11, 2022, until its presentation in court.
Bongao turned over the suspected drugs to PDEA chemist Richard Angelo Solis for analysis. After testing representative samples, it was given to evidence custodian Magella Muñaste. The parcel was retrieved for the hearings.
Aside from Solis’ testimony, the prosecution did not provide any document to prove the transfer of the evidence to Muñaste. The latter was also not presented to testify on how the package was handled in the interim.
“It is settled that in criminal proceedings involving illegal drugs, the presentation of the drugs which constitute the corpus delicti (concrete evidence) of the crime calls for the necessity of proving with moral certainty that they are the same seized item,” the court said.
Campanilla said in the ANC interview that he believed that his client was being framed.
“The father of the accused is a government official, so they have a lot of enemies with the intent to harm them,” he said. “Right now, PDEA is at the front line, but it’s possible also that [they were] only manipulated.”
President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. had rejected calls for the resignation of Justice Secretary Remulla following his son’s arrest, saying that such a demand was baseless.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JACOB LAZARO AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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