Laude family to SC: Allow media coverage of Pemberton trial

FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE. US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton appears in an Olongapo court over the alleged murder of transgender Filipino Jennifer Laude on December 19, 2014. File photo courtesy of Marilou Laude

FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE. US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton appears in an Olongapo court over the alleged murder of transgender Filipino Jennifer Laude on December 19, 2014.

File photo courtesy of Marilou Laude

MANILA, Philippines – The kin of slain transgender woman Jennifer Laude appealed before the Supreme Court (SC) to allow the press in the courtroom for the trial of murder suspect Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton.

The victim's family went to the High Court after the Olongapo court that is hearing the case junked their plea.

In their petition filed Monday, April 27, Laude siblings Marilou and Mesehilda said "the constitutional right to free speech and of the press" and "the constitutional right of the people to receive information" mandate that the media be allowed to enter the courtroom for Pemberton's trial.

News media members have been barred from entering the courtroom to witness first-hand the trial of Pemberton, forcing them to rely on photos and narratives of those who were inside the court. 

Such a policy has been in place since Pemberton's first appearance in court.

Citing the European Court of Human Rights decision in Worm Austria, the Laudes, through their lawyer Harry Roque, argued that "there could be discussion of court proceedings as they were taking place."

"Reporting including comment on court proceedings" is consistent with the requirement "that hearings be in public," they said.

"Restrictions on freedom of expression," such as "for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary," does not mean restriction of "all forms of public discussion on matters pending before the courts," as "courts cannot operate in a vacuum," they added.

Pemberton is accused of Laude's brutal murder last October 11, after witnesses pointed to him as the last person who was with Laude, whose lifeless body was found slumped in the toilet of a cheap Olongapo hotel late that evening.

Found to be caused by aspyhxiation by drowning and strangulation, Laude's death reignited calls to revisit the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.

The agreement allows the conduct of US military drills on Philippine soil, which brought Pemberton and other US soldiers to the country.

Some sectors regarded her murder as a hate crime, driving media frenzy and cracking open deep-seated prejudices against transgender Filipinos in the predominantly Catholic country of nearly 100 million. (READ: Remarks vs Laude reflect deep-seated prejudice –CHR)

In their SC petition, the Laudes said the "public has the right to know" about the murder case.

The case, they said, involves "matters of great public interest."

Quoting the US Supreme Court in Richmond Newspapers Inc., v. Virginia, they invoked the Bill of Rights for being "enacted against the backdrop of the long history of trials being presumptively open."

They further argued that Laude's mother Julita relies on the press to know the progress in the murder case.

She lives "in a municipality in Leyte province that is 6 hours by land from the nearest airport," and "has financial, logistical, and transportation constraints in attending all the hearings in this case." 

"[U]nder international human rights law, Petitioners and their family members have the right to know and be informed about the proceedings as an integral part of their right to have access to justice.... Consequently, the press will be the main medium through which Mrs. Julita S. Laude can be informed of what transpired during the proceedings in this case," the petition read.

Finally, they argued that Pemberton's rights as an accused can still be protected, pointing to coverage guidelines set for the Maguindanao massacre case, wherein reporters are allowed inside the court room and camera men are allowed to take video footages before the hearings start.

The 2009 Maguindanao massacre killed 58 people, including 32 journalists. They were gunned down and buried in a mass grave by armed men allegedly on the orders of the Ampatuan clan in Mindanao.

The Laudes are represented by a group of lawyers led by human rights lawyer Harry Roque, the petition showed. – Rappler.com