[I wrote this article in the Summer of 2004 after the conclusion of the Alternative Law Group’s Summer Internship Program for law students in Camiguin Island. Part of the reason I was interested to write about this program was to show that lawyers and those studying to become legal practitioners were not BLOODSUCKERS (as many were won’t to think), but people who did care for their fellow men, and the environment.]
CAMIGUIN ISLAND–THERE is no money in alternative lawyering.
Besides, what respectable lawyer would trade his barong tagalog and attaché case for a backpack and a ride on a habal-habal (an improvised motorcycle transport with extended seats) to far-flung places just to go to work? It’s hardly the ideal picture of a lawyer that people have in mind.
But for alternative lawyers in Mindanao, money and glamour are not everything.
To this unique breed of lawyers, saving the environment and empowering the disadvantaged are more important — and summer sees them working hard to win the hearts and minds of law students.
Lying just under the shadow of all the writers’ workshops that blossom in the country during summer is the little-heard-of Alternative Law Groups’ Summer Internship Program (ALGSIP) for law students.
Held from April to May, the ALGSIP helps law students choose the right career paths for them to take as lawyers in the future and provide them opportunities to bond and have a great time.Lawyer Normita Batula of the Cagayan de Oro-based Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw (Balaod-Mindanaw) said the internship program introduces law students to alternative lawyering.Balaod-Mindanaw, the Legal Rights Center (LRC) and the Pagadian City-based Environmental Legal Assistance Center (Elac-Mindanaw) held the ALGSIP for the Northern Mindanao cluster for 24 interns from seven law schools.
Seventeen of this year’s interns came from the Mindanao State University’s College of Law in Iligan City, Liceo de Cagayan University in Cagayan de Oro City, and Urios College in Butuan City.
Four interns from the San Carlos University and San Juan Recoletos in Cebu City, San Agustin University in Iloilo City and La Salle Bacolod joined the Northern Mindanao cluster.
The program opened the eyes of participants to women issues, the plight of the poor, the indigenous peoples and the environment. It showed them a different side to lawyering — one that is not so high profile but noble nonetheless.
LRC intern Eric Talja, a law student from Urios College, described his immersion with the Higao-nons in the hinterlands of Naawan town, Misamis Oriental province: “Out there you are forced to learn the law since that is what you use to help the people.”
Talja also said that there was no other place in the country where he felt the need for social justice more acutely than in the charming hills overlooking the beautiful Macalajar Bay.
“I am aware of the injustices committed against indigenous peoples and the poor but it is truly different when one … sees it face to face,” said the 30-year-old former bank officer.
Balaod-Mindanaw intern Audrey Abamonga of Liceo de Cagayan University shares Talja’s sentiments saying what she saw in her immersion in a town in Negros Oriental province opened her eyes to the ever widening chasm between the landed rich and the dirt-poor peasants.The 23-year-old Abamonga said she was moved by the poverty of peasants who until now are still fighting for their benefits under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
It was while Abamonga was helping document cases of abuse there that she heard her “calling.”
“This experience has shown me that I can be in a position to help these people; and when I become a lawyer in the future I really will help them.”
Another intern who also heard his “calling” is MSU-College of Law student Margarito Pacilan who entered law school because it was the “most economically profitable.”
“Now, I don’t even think of the money,” swore the 25-year-old Elac-Mindanaw intern who was dismayed to learn — first hand during the internship — that even judges were ignorant of environmental laws, “especially the new laws.” But no matter the personally-fulfilling and heart-warming perks of alternative lawyering, its reputation as a cash-strapped profession still remains a stumbling block for most law students.
Alternative law groups are trying to address this by establishing links with law schools in Northern Mindanao.
Lawyer Jennifer Ramos, Elac-Mindanaw area manager, and a former law student intern herself of the Ateneo Human Rights Center in 1999, said the internship program is their way of finding new blood for alternative law.
“Lawyers have to find their mission in life. This is ours,” she said. (Rex Godinez Ortega)
Rex Godinez Ortega (Phil. Daily Inquirer, June 20, 2004)