Court finds ‘reasonable doubt’ in drug case, DOJ chief says ‘justice is served’
A Las Piñas court on Friday found the eldest son of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla not guilty of illegal drug possession, three months after anti-narcotics agents arrested him for receiving a parcel containing 893.91 grams of high-grade marijuana valued at P1.25 million.
Acting Presiding Judge Ricardo Moldez II of the Las Piñas RTC Branch 179 said “an assiduous review of the evidence” showed that there was “reasonable doubt that the accused received and possessed the parcel delivered to him with the knowledge, consciousness, and awareness” that the parcel contained marijuana.
Modlez said that for a successful prosecution of an offense of illegal possession of dangerous drugs, the prosecution must establish three elements: 1) that the accused was in possession of an item or object identified as a prohibited drug; 2) that the possession was not authorized by law; and 3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the drug.
The RTC ruling came barely three months after Juanito Jose Remulla III was arrested in his home following a “controlled delivery operation” conducted by agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in October 2022.
Juanito’s arrest triggered calls for Remulla’s resignation so as notto influence the outcome of the investigation on the case, but the Justice secretary refused to do so.
However, Remulla distanced himself from the case and refused to entertain questions related to his son’s case.
Juanito, who was presented by the defense as its lone witness, said that on Oct. 11, 2022 at around 11 a.m., he was awakened by his girlfriend, who informed him that there were two delivery men waiting for him outside his house.
When he went out of the house, he saw two men clad in delivery clothing, wearing matching bull caps, and asked him if he was Juanito Remulla.
After confirming that he was the person they were looking for, the supposed delivery men told him that there was a delivery for him but he told them he was not expecting a delivery.
He added that he was also asked if he knew a certain Benjamin Huffman. to which he said no.
After presenting his driver’s license as proof of identity, he heard one of the men said: “Meron Juanito, tapos meron Remulla, pwede na ito. (There’s a Juanito and a Remulla, this will do.)”
Remulla said he was then presented with a sheet of paper for him to sign and a brown, nondescript box without any identifying marks.
The box was handed to him and the men took pictures of him and then he was immediately arrested.
Juanito testified that he did not receive the parcel and that it was just handed to him, even as he recounted that he even threw the box away as he felt he was being set up.
He said he did not file a case against the persons who arrested him because he was not given the opportunity to do so.
In ruling in favor of Juanito, the court pointed out that the testimonies of prosecution witnesses failed to clearly prove the existence of “animus possidendi” or the intent to possess on the part of the accused.
The court noted that Juanito’s 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 unknown to him and that he seemed oblivious to the parcel’s contents.
The lower court also noted that in a controlled delivery, the mere designation as the consignee or even the acceptance of a package containing illicit items, by itself, is not sufficient to establish criminal liability.
It said that other circumstances must be present to show that the recipient was really aware of its contents.
Under Republic Act 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, a controlled delivery happens when the consignment of any dangerous drug is detected and the law enforcers knowingly allow the package to travel to its destination or to the address of the consignee to establish the person or persons involved in the commission of the offense.
“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 court declared.
The court also expressed “serious reservations” about the integrity and evidentiary value of the dangerous drugs allegedly seized.
The judge noted that there is nothing in the records that would show how the parcel was handled, stored, and preserved from the time it was discovered on Sept. 28, 2022 by the Customs Anti-Illegal Drug Task Force (CAIDTF) until it was turned over to a customer examiner.
“The prosecution failed to establish that during the ‘detection stage’ or before the parcel allegedly containing the illegal drugs was 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 content and that there was no opportunity for someone not in the chain to have possession of the same during the said period,” the ruling said.
“Because of these, this court is unable to discount the possibility of evidence tampering on that occasion,” it said.
Sought for comment, Justice Secretary Remulla expressed hope that his eldest son will be able to redeem himself after the Las Pinas City RTC dismissed the drug charges against him.
“I wish my son further redemption in the future,” the DOJ chief told reporters.
Lawyer Pearlito Campanilla said in a television interview that they will try to have the younger Remulla released within the day.
“Today is a day of celebration and thanksgiving for now,” Campanilla said.
Secretary Remulla previously said he will not interfere and his son “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,” the DOJ chief said in a handwritten letter released to the media as he was out of the country at the time of his son’s arrest.
PDEA issued a brief statement following the release of the decision.
“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,” the statement said.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said that based on the facts of the case he gathered from news reports, he was not surprised that the younger Remulla was acquitted.
Pimentel, a bar topnotcher, said he believes Remulla’s son was arrested when the closed package was handed over to him.
“And that the law enforcers waited for media reporters to arrive before opening the package in front of the accused,” said Pimentel.
He noted that the quick action of the court is commendable.
“I just hope that this example of the quick action of the court can also be experienced by others who are involved in the Philippine justice system,” he said. With Rio N. Araja