February 14th, 2016 | by Balaod Mindanaw
This training tool kit is produced based on BALAOD Mindanaw’s years of experience in doing community paralegal formation and legal empowerment. The process and content described herein are drawn from the actual works of the organization, which is committed to advancing the legal and justice issues of the marginalized sectors and communities in Mindanao through alternative lawyering, paralegalism, and active non-violence.
In particular, this toolkit was written during the period of the project “Protecting the Watershed Forest Reserves through Legal Empowerment” implemented in the Municipality of Cantilan, Surigao del Sur. The project and the production of this toolkit are supported by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE). BALAOD Mindanaw and FPE share the vision of local communities who are mindful of the environmental impact of various activities conducted in their localities and are active in promoting for their protection. This is premised on the perception that to ensure genuine and sustaining protection of valuable ecosystems, natural resources and the country’s biodiversity, environmental consciousness and conservation action should spring from those who are grounded in the community directly benefiting from the natural resource and are immediately impacted by environmental damage.
As exemplified throughout this toolkit, paralegalism is seen as an effective mechanism in environmental protection. This strategy has emerged from among the civil society movements due to the recurring issues on the lack of knowledge on basic human and community rights, the lack of knowledge of the country’s laws and legal system, and the lack of access to justice. To top it all, there is a lack of recourse provided by the legal system. Paralegalism seeks to respond to these inadequacies in order to address and promote the needs of the marginalized sectors, and their lack of access to and use or control of their resources. Taking legal action helps ensure better protection for critically important ecosystems while providing communities and stakeholders with formal recognition of their rights for legal protection. Thus, legal empowerment, through paralegal formation of the community, is needed to protect their rights, and to secure firm and State-sanctioned resolutions on environmental and natural resource conflicts.
Through its work, BALAOD Mindanaw has proven that paralegalism and peaceful meta-legal strategies, such as community’s strong advocacy campaign, can advance the basic sectors’ and communities’ interests, and improve access to justice, equality and resource tenure, all in the context of active peoples’ participation in governance.
At the core of the successes and gains are the community members, the indigenous peoples, the farmers, the fisherfolks and the rural poor who have continued to fight for their rights, and who continue to stand for what is right and just. At the core of every sustained movement for structural change, justice and development are the people themselves who seek to make those aspirations a reality. This is the spirit that continues to move alternative lawyering and paralegalism as a way of life in their quest to advance access to justice and make the legal system work for the marginalized communities.