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‘Di na ako mapansin! De Lima decries media ban in court hearings

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Detained Senator Leila de Lima on Wednesday denounced the move of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and court officials to ban media from covering her court hearings.

She cited in particular her appearance at the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 34, on Oct. 4.

She considered the said restriction as “a gross violation” of press freedom, the right of the public to be informed, and the right of the accused to a public trial, as guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution.

“The authorities are getting more and more unreasonable in restricting media access to my court proceedings and any of my public outings, for that matter,” De Lima said.

“As far as my legal team knows, the Court has not issued any official order–verbal or written–restricting media from covering court proceedings at QC MTC, Branch 34,” she said.

She added, “But how come media were barred during the last hearing? Under whose authority or orders was it?”

During the hearing at the Quezon City MTC, Branch 34, on De Lima’s “Disobedience to Summons” case last Oct. 4, media were barred by the authorities from covering the hearing without issuance of any court order justifying such restriction.

It was not, however, the first time that the authorities prevented the media from covering her court proceedings.

In the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 206, where she is facing illegal drug trade case, verbal orders were supposedly issued to the press restricting them from covering court hearings.

The said verbal order in Muntinlupa RTC Branch 206 was allegedly issued under the instructions of Judge Lorna Navarro-Domingo.

“These unreasonable and baseless instructions are unconstitutional,” the opposition senator said.

“They not only undermine the media’s role as messengers of truth to the public, but also prevent the conduct of an open and public trial,” she said.

De Lima added, “There cannot be a legal ban on such attendance, even if enforced through a written court order.”

“Any ban on the attendance of the media is illegal. Being a mere member of the public, even though one may be a stranger to the litigants, is of no moment,” she said.

The senator said “relationship to the parties is not necessary in order to attend court hearings.”

In criminal trials, this is the essence of the right of the accused to an open and public trial, she said.

“Closed door or secret trials, or trials where the public, especially the media, are excluded from the court room, are proscribed under the Constitution,” De Lima said.

This is to “guarantee a fair” and impartial trial of the accused by the courts, she stressed.

The media restriction on covering court proceedings sends a chilling message to the people that “if it can be done to a public figure like me, to an elected official, it can be done to anyone,” she said.

“Being falsely accused based on orchestrated lies, I’m already at a disadvantage,” De Lima said.

“Restricting media access to my court hearings further stunts my chances for a fair trial,” she said.

She added, “When even an elected senator is rendered powerless before the courts, all the more that ordinary citizens are susceptible to transgressions and abuses.”

De Lima was detained at the PNP Custodial Center in February 2017 on drug charges.