This Week in Media (October 10 to 14, 2022)

Justice secretary embroiled in drug controversy

CITIZENS DO not know much about the administration of justice and the criminal justice system over which the Department of Justice (DOJ) has authority. As the government’s principal law agency, it deals with matters that are relatively distant from the ordinary person’s daily affairs. 

Secretaries of Justice are thus relatively unknown, despite their important functions in the system for which he or she is responsible. 

DOJ officials, like other bureaucrats, work in faceless anonymity, until they themselves are involved justice issues. For instance, Vitaliano Aguirre II, President Duterte’s first Justice chief, is probably remembered for the detention of Leila de Lima, a sitting senator at the time of her arrest. De Lima was imprisoned for her alleged involvement in drug trading inside the New Bilibid prison when she was herself Justice secretary. Aguirre was also the secretary when the “pastillas scam” involving the Bureau of Immigration, which is under DOJ’s jurisdiction, was discovered. DOJ prosecutors under Aguirre’s term also went on to clear then Customs Chief Nicanor Faeldon from charges of involvement in the smuggling of billions-worth of shabu. (Only Customs broker Mark Taguba and other middlemen were charged.)

But Current Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla is not an unknown, being a member of one of the country’s most prominent political dynasties. A political clan in Cavite, the Remulla dynasty has spawned various members who have become well-known personalities, such as Jonvic Remulla, current Cavite Governor, and Gilbert Remulla, a former journalist, lawmaker and now director of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation. 

The Remullas are known allies of President Duterte. Remulla made news during the election season this year, for labelling Vice President and presidential candidate Leni Robredo and her supporters as communists. 

His was among the first appointments by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. During the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva early this month, Remulla claimed the Philippine government has been implementing reforms in the justice system, and that the recommendations by the council are already being addressed. In separate dialogues this week with the UN Human Rights Committee, Remulla defended red-tagging as a “part of democracy” and reiterated that the local justice system is working, hence the Philippines saw no need to rejoin the International Criminal Court. 

Remulla was still in Geneva when news broke on October 13 that his eldest son, 38-year-old Juanito Jose Diaz Remulla III, had been arrested for alleged possession of PHP1.3 million-worth of kush, or high-grade marijuana. Citing the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), reports from several news organizations said a parcel labeled as a “hooded sweater” and bearing Remulla III’s name as consignee was intercepted at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on September 27. 

X-ray screening determined that the package contained organic substances, which prompted the authorities to subject it to K9 unit sweeping. Derrick Carreon, spokesperson of the PDEA, told the media that they facilitated a “controlled delivery” operation, which means the authorities already know about the suspicious item, allowing it to reach the intended recipient as evidence and basis for arrest. The parcel, which Remulla received in a BF Resort Village address in Las Piñas City, contained 932 grams of kush.

News accounts carried a photo of Secretary Remulla’s handwritten statement that he won’t interfere in his son’s case. Some reports noted that he was unavailable for immediate interviews when he arrived in the country on October 14. Rappler tweeted that past 4 pm of October 14, Remulla appeared on SMNI’s Laban Kasama ang Bayan for a live interview, his first since the arrest of his son. He still has not entertained requests from other media.   

ANC and One News reported that calls for Remulla to resign trended on Twitter, as netizens thought he could  influence  government prosecutors who will handle the case. Asked by reporters about this issue, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the calls for his resignation have no basis, as only non-performance of duty and “misbehavior” on the job can qualify as valid reasons. Remulla himself told SMNI that he “serves at the pleasure of the president,” indicating no intention to step down from his post.

Reports cited incumbent senators and Remulla’s partymates who disagreed with the calls for resignation. Philstar.com reported that Remulla found “unlikely allies” in De Lima and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who acknowledged his commitment to recuse himself from his son’s case. De Lima maintained that Remulla’s son is innocent until proven guilty, adding: “This same cardinal presumption is what should have been upheld for those who have been judged only too swiftly in the past administration’s drug war, and who were not given the chance to defend themselves before the courts.” 

Meanwhile, speaking at ANC, Former Justice Secretary and Senate President Franklin Drilon said that at this point, there is no legal basis for Remulla to resign.

As of press time, Las Piñas prosecutors have filed a case against Remulla III for possession of illegal drugs. Atty. Jennah Marie dela Cruz told the media through a phone interview that they are leaving the matter of drug importation to Pasay City prosecutors, as the offense took place in that city. The prosecutors did not recommend bail due to the amount of drugs recovered. Reports noted that under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, Remulla’s son could face the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine ranging from PHP500 thousand to 10 million. 

A controversy this early into Remulla’s term warrants sustained attention from the media, especially since the secretary has defended the drug war on different occasions. As someone who has assured the international community that “transformational reform” in the DOJ is underway, Remulla should expect all eyes to be on him as he deals with this family crisis.