Philippine Justice chief rejects resignation calls

PHILIPPINE STAR/ KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

THE PHILIPPINES’ Justice chief on Tuesday rejected calls for his resignation after police arrested his son for drug possession last week.

“It will not happen,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla told a news briefing after coming home from a working visit to Geneva. “I will not comment anymore on the other issues there, but it will not happen.”

Officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Oct. 11 arrested Mr. Remulla’s son Juanito Jose for possession of high-grade marijuana worth about P1.3 million.

He is facing a charge of illegal drug possession before a Las Piñas court, while another complaint for illegal drug imports will undergo preliminary investigation before the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office.

PDEA Director Derrick Arnold C. Carreon earlier said the younger Mr. Remulla was the lone suspect in the anti-illegal drug operation conducted in Las Piñas City near the Philippine capital.

The Justice chief said he would not interfere in his son’s case.

The arrest prompted calls for Mr. Remulla’s resignation, even among some lawmakers who questioned how an impartial probe could be done by prosecutors under the watch of the Justice department.

Mr. Remulla said quitting is not his decision to make.

“That is not my call. I am a very honorable person when it comes to this. It’s the president’s call,” he said, referring to President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.

“And if I feel later on that I’m not anymore effective in this position, then I will talk to the president about what has to be done in the future.”

Mr. Marcos has also rejected calls for his Justice secretary to quit, saying he hasn’t done anything wrong.

“The moment I arrived, I called him immediately when I landed,” Mr. Remulla said. “He just said he commiserates with my plight as a parent, that’s all.”  “And he said ‘Just go back to work because we need you.’”

Mr. Remulla said he had yet to talk to his 38-year-old son. “I’ve stayed away from the case. I have not talked to anybody. I have not asked anybody any favor. I just talked to a cousin of mine who’s a lawyer, who will start or has started representing him already.”

The Justice chief also said he would not talk to Prosecutor General Benedicto A. Malcontento about his son’s drug case. He also said he would not entertain any appeals from his son’s lawyers, adding that the case would probably go straight to the courts.

“I know it’s not only me on trial here. It’s my son on trial, it’s the country on trial in some ways. It’s par for the course. It happens,” he said.

Mr. Remulla spent touted the success of his Geneva trip, where he met with United Nations officials on the Philippines’ human rights situation. He called the trip productive, citing the UN’s decision not to take action on the Southeast Asian nation.

The UN Human Rights Council ended its 51st session in Geneva on Oct. 7 without taking action on the Philippines, despite dire expressions of concern from the UN human rights office, civil society organizations and families of victims of abuses.

The council dealt victims of human rights violations in the Philippines a serious blow by failing to pass a resolution that would ensure continued scrutiny of the country’s rights situation, Human Rights Watch said this month.

The 2020 Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines required the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the Philippine rights situation through 2022.

A September report by the high commissioner’s office highlighted prevailing rights violations and recommended continued monitoring and reporting to the council.

But council member states and donor countries that supported the 2020 resolution and the ensuing Philippine-UN Joint Program did not press for a 2022 resolution, Human Rights Watch said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Remulla said his agency aims to build new prisons in the countryside in the next three to four years to ease jail congestion.

“There is a need to humanize our prisoners and to treat inmates as people, not just a number out of 39,000,” he said. “We also have about 318 names of prisoners lined up with the executive secretary for executive clemency.”

He earlier said the national penitentiary, which was designed to house 6,000 prisoners, had 17,000 inmates.

The DoJ also plans to relocate the national penitentiary’s minimum security facility to Nueva Ecija in northern Philippines.

With 215,000 prisoners nationwide, Philippine jails and prisons are overfilled more than five times their official capacity, making them the most overcrowded prison system in the world, according to the World Prison Brief.

Many of the country’s jails fail to meet the minimum United Nations standards given inadequate food, poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). — Norman P. Aquino and John Victor D. Ordoñez