That’s what came to mind, Reader, when I read that the case against Justice Secretary Remulla’s son had been decided – in his favor. BTW, for those who are too young to remember, the title of this blog is from the description of Superman.
Only consider, Reader. Our Criminal Justice, according to the 2022 World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, has the lowest score among 8 factors that comprise the Index. We were given a score of 0.32 (0 is the lowest, showing weakest adherence to the rule of law, and 1 is the highest score showing strongest adherence). For context, the global average is 0.47 and the regional average, i.e. East Asia and the Pacific, is 0.53. That’s how bad our system is.
If you want any more proof, let’s look at the some of the 7 subfactors of criminal justice:
Subfactors of criminal justice: Scores
In the “Criminal System is Free of Improper Government Influence”, our score is 0.27 (compared to the global average of 0.47 and the regional average of 0.48). In the “Due Process of the Law and Rights of the Accused”, our score is 0.29 (Global Ave is 0.51, Regional Ave is 0.53).
In other words, we suck at criminal justice, at least compared to our region and the rest of the world.
Now, let’s look at some national figures. According to law, a trial proper should last only 180 days, and judgement should be promulgated within 90 days of terminating the trial. But in reality only 14.85 % of the cases in the Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) comply with the 180-day requirements (2019 data). The RTCs are the worst performing among the all the courts, so the data say. In fairness, compliance rates of the courts were even lower before the “continuous trial (CT)” system took effect. The average compliance rate was 2.19% before CT, and it rose to 30.51% after CT. So there has been some improvement – but obviously not enough.
There are 959 RTC branches in the Philippines of which upwards of 150 are either vacant, or unorganized (1922 data). Eight years ago, in 2014, there may have been even less. Back then, the number of newly filed cases was about 161,000 cases while the number of cases decided/resolved was 110,000, thus adding 51,000 to the backlog of cases. Assume that there were 800 active branches eight years ago, that’s about 200 newly filed cases per branch and about 137 cases decided/resolved. So on the average, 63 cases are added to each branch’s backlog. At any rate, the data for 2014 show that the disposition rate – the ratio of total cases decided/resolved to total cases filed — was only 18.4%.
Which is to show that within the Philippines, the justice system sucks.
With this as background, Reader, we are ready to appreciate why the trial and decision on the Juanito Jose Remulla III case might be “faster than a speeding bullet”. Here is the time line:
Oct. 11, 2022 – The son of the Justice Secretary was arrested in Las Pinas City by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Drug Interdiction Task Group and seized from him 900 grams of “kush”, derived from marijuana, allegedly worth P1.3 million. NB: the PDEA spokesperson said that at the time of the arrest, they were not aware of the family connection.
Oct. 13 – the arrest was announced to the public. Why the delay? Did they become aware of the family connection and would have kept the whole thing quiet, except that the news leaked (this is one of the benefits of social media) and were “forced to good”.
Oct. 14 – Las Pinas prosecutors filed a complaint (presumably in court) for illegal drug possession against Juanito Remulla. No bail was recommended.
Oct. 27 – the case is raffled to Las Pinas RTC Branch 197 Acting Presiding Judge Ricardo Moldez II. I do not know when the trial began. I couldn’t get it in google.
Jan. 6, 2023 – Remulla fils is acquitted. Moldez says it was because the prosecution failed to provide evidence that he knew he was receiving a package of illegal drugs and that anti-drug agents committed lapses in the chain-of-custody of the 900 grams of drugs.
That’s less than three months from arrest to acquittal. And less than 75 days from trial to acquittal, in spite of so many holidays in between. That is truly a record-breaker. It sounds like a star chamber, with the roles reversed – where the defense gets all the breaks.
Here are the actions that raise questions if Remulla fils was given special and favorable treatment by both the judiciary and the prosecution:
Points to Consider
1. He was not incarcerated in Las Pinas City Jail, or Pasig City Jail, (where the crimes allegedly took place). Instead, he was apparently incarcerated somewhere in the PDEA. The public has the right to see where he was detained, so they can compare it with the detention places of thousands of drug users/pushers/possessors.
2. The PDEA did not subject him to a drug test, on the grounds that he refused to be tested. Say what? Do they treat all their detainees as gently?
3. Between arrest and trial was a mere 2-3 weeks. What is the average length of time between those two events in the Philippines? Haven’t we read of thousands of detainees rotting in jail, waiting literally years for their trials to be even scheduled?
4. The prosecution witnesses seem to have been either half-hearted in giving their testimonies for the prosecution or wholeheartedly giving Remulla fils a way out. Example: Two witnesses, Bongao and Mek-eng, both testified that when the package was delivered to Remulla, he said that he was not expecting any package to be delivered to his residence. That he did not know the shipper. Why should they voluntarily testify to that? Why make it easier for the defense?
5. And then the prosecution seemed to have acted very cavalierly about keeping the chain-of-custody. Are they really so carefree about handling evidence?
6. Now we come to the trial judge. Did Judge Moldez have such a free court schedule that he could insert this case and then give it priority all the way? What about the other 200 cases (if he is average) in his caseload? How many cases did he push aside to give this case priority? How many hearings did this case take? And what was the time lapse between hearings? Because in Senator de Lima’s case, three weeks has been the shortest period between hearings.
Would all this have happened if Secretary Remulla was not in the picture? Fair question.