Juanito Jose Remulla III is convicted

In the court of public opinion, the Remulla son has not been acquitted under the judicial and political anthropology of a damaged nation.

The first problem that will prick the conscience of his wealthy family is the realism on the ground of access to justice. He certainly had that. A team of abogados de campanilla, one of who is the human rights lawyer Kit Belmonte, complemented his case. What was the cost of that defense? It must have been the right price.  But for the many who are poor and penniless, is such access to justice reachable? That is without doubt a rhetorical question.

His father, the secretary of justice, gave a statement that represents the immense joy the powerful family must be feeling —  “My son enjoyed the right to be presumed innocent in the first place.” Again, there is no doubt in our minds how much precedence that legal tenet must permeate the justice system. But the thousands who died under the Duterte drug war through extrajudicial killings were never privileged with that precept, not even a hint of it as a right, in the first place.

It is ironic that the justice secretary stands on the same situation as the parents orphaned by the Duterte regime – they are all parents of children suspected of the crime of drugs possession. But they do not stand on the same footing: the EJK victims were killed under the lunacy of having been presumed guilty before proving their innocence.

Our laws are now mangled, garbled and distorted after six years of a drug war that has not eliminated the scourge of drugs. The onus of shifting the scales of justice to favor none now weighs heavily on the justice secretary, even long after he will step down as a cabinet big shot. “I am glad justice is served,” he said. Justice was never served on the EJK martyrs. That is why it is only right that they have sought justice elsewhere – in the International Criminal Court where the perpetrators must face judgment.

One Remulla lawyer was quick to speculate that their client could have been framed up. The court verdict was critical of how the evidence defied the rule on chain of custody. The integrity of the package of American high-grade marijuana could not be ascertained as not having been tampered. But so has the Leila de Lima case turned up anything except for a cacophony of framed up evidence and fake testimonies.

Leila de Lima is in jail because of flimsy narratives that could not even get anywhere past a lie detector test. Everything was orchestrated by the powerful pique of one man who holds the most infernal and cold-blooded revenge against her. Yet it is common knowledge that the prosecutors in the De Lima case can at any time be ordered – yes ordered – to withdraw the case. Boying Remulla has the power to do that.

The fact-checker journalist Christian Esguerra, who gives a terrible shudder to fake news purveyors, invited to his vlog #FactsFirst two lawyers who both handle cases of EJK victims. The topic shifted to the Supreme Court’s 2017 Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases. That guideline prescribes promulgation to decision for drug cases within 75 days. The Remulla case was resolved in less than 3 months. The judge deserves commendation.

Does he? That SC guideline is not always followed. In 2019, two years after its issuance, compliance was only at 30.53%. Non-compliance with the rule such as failure to observe the prescribed timelines and deadlines can bring disciplinary action to the judge.

The Remulla case was a high-profile one. It riveted public interest attention, not excluding the judge’s judicial superiors as part of the spectators. Failure to resolve the case within the prescribed deadline could have jeopardized judge Ricardo Moldez III’s career. But what is the reality? One of Esguerra’s guests, Jobert Pahilga revealed that just one bail hearing for a drug case he lawyers has not been resolved for more than a year now.

The other lawyer guest, Kristin Conti, summarized the rule of speedy trial as it applied to Remulla as an insult to the ordinaryong mamamayan. It applies to a powerful family but not to all. Public perception hence choruses: sanaol.

Juanito Jose Remulla III will forever face conviction, until justice in our land will rightfully depict truth and fairness. He may be the victor, but his acquittal is tantamount to defeat. One would not wish to be a Pyrrhic Remulla in Filipino history.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.