When Normie asked me to write something of BALAOD particularly on paralegalism, I was hesitant to do so because it requires remembering things for someone who is not getting younger and being required to write it in at least 1,200 words which will cover more than one page. But since it is BALAOD's 10th Anniversary, with mixed emotions, I obliged to share a few thoughts that will meet not necessarily the number of words but probably the number of pages.
It is fulfilling to remember of BALAOD working with farmer paralegals who have taken the law in their own hands in order to...
- close down a mining operation in Agusan del Sur;
- win the cancellation case filed by Hacienda Maria Inc. against members of KAMMPE of Sta. Josefa, Agusan del Sur;
- draft a municipal ordinance in order to ban commercial fishing in the coastal areas of Governor Generoso;
- get approval of Community Based Forest Management Agreements (CBFMAs) in hundreds of hectares in Gingoog City for hundreds of beneficiaries;
- claim for the issuance of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title in the highlands of Gingoog City;
- ban illegal logging and fishing in Brgy. Esperanza, Loreto, Dinagat Island with the passage of an ordinance/resolution prosecuting violators;
- formulate executive agenda in the areas covered by Local Governance Support Program of CIDA;
- Oppose Senate Bill 2550 proposing for a moratorium in the implementation of Agrarian Reform in Mindanao;
- Propose a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms together with local and national agrarian reform organizations and networks;
- Draw the inspiration of law students of Xavier University, Liceo University in order to work with BALAOD on voluntary basis;
- ...and probably more fulfilling stories which are no longer known to me but already etched deeply in the hearts and minds of those who succeeded and triumphed;
It's heartbreaking to recall BALAOD working with its partners in implementing its paralegal program when...
- Bobby Gana and Kaloy Ollado died on a plane crash while on its way to Cagayan de Oro to meet with BALAOD people and its partners;
- Ford Foundation has to cease its support for the PESANTEch thereby affecting the paralegal program not only of BALAOD but of KAISAHAN and SALIGAN;
- Ka Rene Penas of Sumilao died in the struggle to reclaim the 144 hectare of land in San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon transferred by the Quisumbings to San Miguel Corporation;
But it inspires me to see BALAOD when...
- It has helped trained farmer-leaders and highly skilled paralegals in the likes of Frank Atillo, Ka Rene Penas, Yoyong Merida, Mang Sammy and other farmer paralegals. They have already taken into heart two principles of paralegalism, i.e. using the Law as tools to empower marginalized sectors and changing laws that perpetuate systemic oppression and injustice;
- It walked 1,700 km from Bukidnon to Manila with the Sumilao Farmers - being able to reclaim more than 50 hectares of land from diversifying giant San Miguel Corporation, to mobilize the Church, academe, media and international organization to support the Sumilao cause, and to bring agrarian reform at the forefront of government's priorities. To me this is the pinnacle of parelegalism;
- Normie has taken the leadership of BALAOD while Kaka, through the party-list Akbayan!, has won a Congressional seat, and Azon taking a position in the judiciary and several of its former lawyers and staff who are now in government service - a deliberate strategy which Gerry B. and Ka Oca F. call penetration;
I am hopeful that BALAOD, in working with paralegals and its local, national and international partner organizations, may hurdle the continuing challenges in Mindanao involving...
- Mining operations resulting to militarization, displacement of affected communities, conflict between and among elders of indigenous peoples (IP) communities, and destruction of environment;
- Fast-tracking of Agrarian Reform implementation in Mindanao especially in Northern Mindanao;
- Conflict in war-torn areas, peace processes and initiatives;
- Big commercial plantations, leaseback, consolidation of agricultural land;
- Aerial spraying of pesticides and fungicides and its effects in the health of affected communities and the surrounding environment;
- Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain;
- Equity in the distribution of the vast wealth and resources of Mindanao;
I am more convinced that through BALAOD's work, the principles of paralegalism hold true and are still perfectly valid, namely:
- Law is a real.
- Laws are made by men and women.
- Some laws are not impartial.
- Laws are tools.
- Laws can be changed.
On its 10th Anniversary, I wish BALAOD more resources and good health during the next 10 years of effective and dedicated service to the people in Mindanao. Padayon!!