by Katie Spillane
The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) sprang to life in the summer of 1987 as the wake of the People Power Revolution revealed the Philippines’ urgent need for alternative lawyers. Since its founding, the AHRC has evolved into a multi-pronged advocacy center whose capacities range from fundraising (1) to litigation. (2) As an intern at the AHRC, I have had the privilege of observing and participating in many aspects of the AHRC’s work – joining in the annual community school clean-up effort known as “Brigada Eskwela”, (3) attending “trainers trainings” for prosecutors of extra-judicial killings cases (4) and observing consultations between ASEAN diplomats and local civil society organizations.
Impressive though this list may be, the AHRC’s direct advocacy initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg. AHRC’s flagship program is the Human Rights Internship – an annual intensive exposure to alternative lawyering in the Philippines. The mission of the internship program is to form human rights lawyers who will fight for access to justice and for the empowerment of civil society in the name of peace, democracy, gender equality, good governance, and the rule of law. (5)
The program is ambitious. It begins with a rigorous multi-day orientation of advocacy crash-courses in areas ranging from environmental law to women’s rights. Students are then sent in small groups for a one-week immersion home stay with indigenous families. Upon their return, each student is assigned to a host NGO for five weeks “in the trenches” doing legal research and advocacy work.
As an intern in McGill’s own internship program, observing the inner workings of the AHRC’s internship program was often a bit of a mise en abyme. For two days in late May, my internship was devoted to observing interns reflecting on internships. For me, this raised many questions about the role of the human rights center within the community at large, the university setting, and the process of legal education. Among the questions that keep me curious are:
- How can such centers best channel their financial, scholarly and lobbying resources?
- Can the impact of their advocacy extend beyond an educational function?
- Can relationships between students and host environments be symbiotic or are these necessarily lop-sided?
- To what degree can student-centered experiences be expected to generate serviceable scholarship?
- Do the strong interpersonal bonds that internships form generate the professional and political momentum necessary to realize broader societal goals or do they remain personal?
- Are the long-term goals of human rights centers realized through the future work of their interns?
These are questions I will continue to reflect upon as my time in Manila draws to a close. I anticipate more questions will surface on the long flight home, during my research next autumn, and throughout my own professional development. While there are no easy answers, I am grateful to both McGill and Ateneo for their support in asking these questions!
(1) Rosary Diane B. Maligalig “Ateneo’s Blueplate for Better Learning Program Comes a Log Way (Features)” available online: http://www.admu.edu.ph/news/ateneo’s-blueplate-better-learning-program-comes-long-way-features (last accessed July 18, 2014).
(2) See, e.g. Melencio Sta-Maria et al, v. Secretary of Justice, et al., G.R. No. 203335, April 22, 2014, available online: http://www.chanrobles.com/cralaw/2014aprildecisions.php?id=296 (last accessed July 18, 2014).
(3) Manila Bulletin “Editorial: Bayanihan spirit in Brigada Eskwela” May 18, 2014, available online: http://www.mb.com.ph/editorial-bayanihan-spirit-in-brigada-eskwela/(last accessed July 18, 2014).
(4) American Bar Association “Current Rule of Law Programs in the Philippines: Seeking justice for victims of extrajudicial killings” available online: http://www.americanbar.org/advocacy/rule_of_law/where_we_work/asia/philippines/programs.html#extrajudicial_killings (last accessed July 18, 2014).
(5) Asia Europe Foundation “Ateneo Human Rights Center” available online: http://www.asef.org/about/partners/partner/2572-AHRC (last accessed July 18, 2014).