Poverty in a land of
plenty. This, in a phrase, best
describes the situation in Mindanao, the
second largest island in the Philippines. While Mindanao
is blessed with an expansive territory, abundant natural resources and a vast
potential for human capital, but the people have yet to reap the island’s
bounty. Close to half of its population
live below the poverty line.
The situation is
aggravated by the marginalization of Mindanao
in the policy-making structures and processes of the country. Main offices of government, business
establishments, and even non-government organizations are based in Manila. Hence, much of Philippine history and
experience, business and politics, are shaped and viewed from the perspective
of Manila. This marginalization is experienced intensely
even in the field of the legal profession and the sector involved in the
administration of justice. While the
Local Government Code has devolved certain powers and authority of the executive
and legislative branches of government to local government units, the judicial
branch sadly remains highly “centralized”.
“centralized” and alienating legal system and profession contributes to the
continuing disempowerment of the majority of Mindanawans.
It was in early of
2000 when a small group composed of lawyers, paralegals and community
organizers, majority of whom were from Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (BMFI),
comprehensively discussed and planned the setting up of a separate and
independent organization aimed at pursuing a vision of equity, development and
peace in Mindanao. Eventually, Balay Alternative Legal Advocates
for Development in Mindanaw, Inc., or simply BALAOD Mindanaw, was officially
created and duly registered with the
Securities and Exchange Commission on 11 August 2000.
“Balaod” is the Visayan word for “law”. It is a non-stock, non-profit,
and developmental legal organization based and operating in Mindanao.
One of the
controversial cases that Balaod handled was the Sumilao farmers’ case involving
137 Higaonon farmers from San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon who went on hunger
strike in 1997 to reclaim their 144-hectare ancestral land. Although they lost their case before the
Supreme Court by a mere technicality, the farmers continued their struggle for
On 10 October 2007,
BALAOD Mindanaw walked and journeyed with 54 Sumilao Farmers for more than
1,700 kilometers from Mindanao to Manila to reclaim their
dignity and their land under the agrarian reform program in the Philippines.
The walk entitled “Walk for Land, Walk for Justice” was not only the most
rewarding of all the initiatives that BALAOD took for the past years but is
also a clear manifestation that legal empowerment through paralegalism is a
very effective strategy in advancing the rights of the poor. The Sumilao walk delivered tremendous victory
in different aspects of community legal empowerment and national policy
development including the enactment of of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform
Extension with Reforms (CARPER) or Republic Act 9700. On 30 March 2008, the Sumilao farmers went home and finally
were able to set foot on their 144-hectare land.