Testing the strength of our institutions

A country’s institutions are strong when they are able to maintain their autonomy in the face of pressures to change their standard operating procedures to accommodate the interests of powerful actors. The key word here is autonomy or independence.

The recent arrest of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla’s 38-year-old son on charges of illegally possessing and importing nearly a kilo of high-grade marijuana known as “kush,” a banned drug, presents us with a crucial test of the strength of our judicial institutions.

The Justice Secretary quickly released a handwritten statement pledging not to interfere in any way with the charges against his son, even as he acknowledges the pain every parent feels when their own child got in trouble with the law. For that, I salute him.

“I see this as a test for our family, for myself and in many ways for our country on how we handle a sensitive matter like this,” he told a reporter. “I am the head of the Justice Department and I will let justice take its course.”

These are very reassuring statements. Unfortunately, in our country, the pursuit of justice does not rest solely on the pledges of a single man. On their own, other people often do certain things to help ease the pains of a well-connected family. These usually involve making small deviations from the usual procedure, all done in “good faith” and given as a “matter of courtesy”.

For example, the agency that arrested suspect Juanito Jose Diaz Remulla III saw fit to hide his face from public view. In a series of blurry photos aptly captioned “A Name Without a Face”, the Inquirer noted emphatically: “Photos released to the media covered young Remulla’s face for privacy, a practice not always applied to other arrested crime suspects. »

Media also questioned why the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) waited two days to report the arrest, “without any explanation for the late public disclosure that often quickly follows a high-profile drug seizure.” . I guess the PDEA expected that the question of the identity of the suspect and his affinity with the Justice Secretary would inevitably come up, so they took the time to check if the person they arrested was really the son of Remulla. The arrest took place while the head of the DOJ was overseas, and perhaps the PDEA saw fit to inform him of the incident before the media reached him. Again, a matter of courtesy.

But there’s probably more than meets the eye here.

According to the Bureau of Customs, the parcel containing the contraband wrapped in bubble wrap arrived at the Central Mail Exchange Center of the Philippine Postal Corp. September 27. It was sent by a certain Benjamin Huffman of 1524 Hornblend Street, San Diego, California, and likely bore the name and address of its recipient, Juanito Jose Remulla III. An X-ray inspection of the package at the Central Mail Exchange showed that its contents might be illegal drugs, which customs officers alerted the PDEA to.

On October 11, 14 days after being notified of the possible illegal drug shipment, the PDEA, in conjunction with the NAIA’s Interagency Drug Interdiction Task Force, conducted what they call a “controlled delivery” operation. The PDEA website defines “controlled delivery” as “a technique used when a shipment of illicit drugs is detected and allowed to proceed under the control and surveillance of law enforcement in order to obtain evidence against the organizers of this illicit drug trade”.

According to the PDEA report, it was Juanito Remulla III who received the package after presenting his driver’s license as proof that he was indeed the recipient. PDEA agents arrested him as he was receiving the marked package.

In the Inquirer article “No Bail for Remulla’s Son” (News, 10/15/22), PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon reportedly said he had no prior knowledge that Juanito Remulla III was the son of the Secretary of Justice. The suspect also did not identify himself as such.

If true, then PDEA deserves nothing but the highest praise for the professionalism of its agents. But some questions remain. Since it took the PDEA 14 days to set up the “controlled delivery” operation, are we to believe that, during this time, no one thought of asking who Juanito Remulla III could be? The name is not exactly common; anyone who has been around would have easily recognized it as belonging to the longtime and legendary governor of Cavite province, Juanito Remulla Sr.

That the PDEA made the arrest, presumably without questioning if the person they had in mind was somehow related to the powerful Remullas of Cavite, is truly remarkable. But many people find it hard to believe, so everyone is watching carefully how this saga will end.

This case has generated a lot of interest because of the parties involved. Former Cavite representative Boying Remulla was a staunch supporter of the murderous war on drugs launched by former President Rodrigo Duterte and a strong advocate for the imposition of the death penalty on convicted drug lords.

Now as DOJ secretary, he’s also able to decide whether to pursue the trumped-up drug charges that were filed against former Senator Leila de Lima at Duterte’s instigation, or drop them. – for reasons of justice – after several witnesses reconsidered their testimonies forced against the senator, who has been languishing in prison for more than five years.

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