Drug Arrest of Minister’s Son a Test of Philippine Judicial Independence

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Drug Arrest of Minister’s Son a Test of Philippine Judicial Independence

Juanito Jose Remulla III was arrested last week for the possession of a large quantity of high-grade marijuana.

Drug Arrest of Minister’s Son a Test of Philippine Judicial Independence
Credit: Depositphotos

On October 11, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) led an operation in Las Pinas City, on the outskirts of Metro Manila, that led to the arrest of one Juanito Jose Remulla III. Remulla has since been charged with possession of $22,000 worth of high-grade marijuana, which was intercepted by customs police in Manila last month after being shipped from the United States.

As well illustrating the harshness of the Philippines’ drug laws – if found guilty, Remulla faces up to life imprisonment and a maximum fine of 10 million pesos ($169,514) – the case was notable for the fact that the 38-year-old is the eldest son of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s justice secretary, Jesus Crispin Remulla. Given that the Philippines’ wealthy and well-connected are very often liberated from bearing the full consequences of the law, experts say that the case will offer a litmus test of the Philippine judiciary’s claims of integrity and independence.

Confirming his son’s arrest on October 13, Secretary Remulla pledged that he would let the judicial process take its course. “I will not intervene in nor influence my son’s predicament, and I have not done so in any way,” he said in a handwritten statement, Rappler reported.  “A person should always face the consequence of their actions and I will let justice take its own course.” Remulla said his son should face his own problems, and wished him “a path to redemption.”

While it is hard to imagine a minister of justice saying much more in the circumstances, the possibility that his son’s identity will affect the course of justice cannot be so simply dismissed. Even if we take Secretary Remulla at his word when he says that he won’t pull strings to get his son treated differently, the more complex question is whether the apparatus of the judiciary will treat Remulla fils in the same way that it routinely treats thousands of low-level drug offenders.

“Despite his reassurances that he will not interfere in his son’s case, his position still creates pressure on the enforcement agencies and other people involved,” Maria Ela Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman told Rappler last week.

The case will inevitably be viewed in the light of the thousands of drug users and low-level drug offenders that were killed during the course of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs,” none of whom were accorded the benefit of a trial. (The police claim many of them were killed in shoot-outs with the police, though rights activists claim that the killings were premeditated and purposeful.) Atienza pointed out that Secretary Remulla has yet to investigate the thousands of murders that took place during the drug war.

Then there are the tens of thousands of minor drug offenders who fill the country’s dangerously overcrowded prison system.

In an interview with BenarNews, Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, which has represented drug war victims’ survivors in legal cases against Duterte, said that the case would be a “litmus test” on the integrity of the country’s judicial system, “as well as the trust of the public and confidence in the integrity of the process.” Last week’s arrest has even led some to call for Secretary Remulla to step down, a suggestion that President Marcos has since dismissed as unwarranted.

Whatever course the case takes, its outcome is sure to be closely scrutinized.