The Bertha Justice Initiative has sent a letter to the Philippine authorities in solidarity with our partner, Harry Roque, who has been subjected to disbarment proceedings in connection to his work as counsel in the Jennifer Laude murder case. Harry is Chairperson of Centerlaw, a partner organisation of the Bertha Justice Initiative, which conducts public interest litigation and hosts and trains Bertha fellows in the Philippines.
Harry represents the family of Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman who was found dead in a motel room at Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City on 11 October 2014. Our Bertha fellow, Ethel Avisado, is working with Harry on this case for the victim’s family in relation to the criminal investigation of the suspect, a US Marine based in the Philippines under the terms of the US-Philippines defence agreement. It is widely accepted that the disbarment proceedings brought against Harry – and the media campaign against him by Philippines defence officials wrongfully accusing him of unprofessional conduct – is a direct attempt to undermine his ability to represent his clients.
On 22 October 2014, Harry and his clients, the family of Jennifer Laude, approached the gate of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board inside Camp Aguinaldo where US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the murder suspect, was detained. In the course of the events, Laude’s German fiancé Marc Suselbeck and sister Marilou climbed over a fence into a restricted area of the compound where the suspect was held. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) accuse Harry of having encouraged the two to do so. Harry denies the allegations and maintains that the AFP is trying to deflect from the actual issue, accountability for the killing of Jennifer Laude. Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc, AFP Public Affairs Office Chief, stated that Harry’s behavior amounts to “unlawful conduct” under the Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers. On 4 November 2014, the AFP filed a disbarment complaint against Harry for violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Ortigas. The case against Harry is currently pending.
The Bertha Justice Initiative and its partner organisations are deeply concerned that Harry is being targeted because of his work as counsel to the family of Jennifer Laude. The disbarment proceedings brought against him are directly related to his work as counsel and impede his ability to represent his clients. We note that these proceedings have been brought in the context of Harry’s public advocacy for his clients, which has been critical of the U.S. and Philippine governments’ extraordinary treatment of the accused in the Laude murder case. We also note that the proceedings have been brought as Mr. Roque prepares for the Philippine Supreme Court hearing of his application to review the validity of the US-Philippine defence agreement that provides the basis for the accused’s presence in the Philippines.
Please find the joint statement sent to the Philippine authorities here
Program Officer of the Bertha Justice Initiative