This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) in Manila, Philippines. Prior to my arrival in the Philippines, I had never heard of the term alternative lawyering. I was first introduced to this concept in a seminar as part of the Basic Orientation Seminar (BOS) that I was fortunate to attend alongside law students from Ateneo University. Throughout my internship experience, I witnessed how central to the practice of alternative lawyering is the empowerment of vulnerable and marginalized communities in the Philippines.
Over the course of 12 weeks, my preconceptions of what it meant to be a lawyer were continuously challenged by the practice of alternative lawyering. The development of paralegal trainings is one of many examples. The most recent paralegal training facilitated by AHRC that I attended was conducted in Metro Manila. The training was focused on empowering community members with the legal knowledge to pursue justice for victims of extra-judicial killings, an abusive practice that occurred under the Duterte administration’s “war-on-drugs” campaign. Following a brief overview of the existing legal principles and rules, community members were invited to participate in scenario activities and skits to employ their knowledge. Members were also invited to share on a volunteer basis their lived experiences and current needs to which the AHRC facilitators as well as other members responded. A lesson learnt from attending paralegal trainings is the importance of trust and collaboration between community members and legal facilitators, as well as humility on the part of the latter.
A sentence common to many of the stories shared by community members at paralegal trainings was “Filipinos are resilient”. Although I witnessed the truth behind this statement, I was invited to reflect on its impact following a conversation with a Filipino law student. When asked about his thoughts on the statement, he shared that although it was true, he felt that years of resilience had led to a state of complaisance, or disempowerment. Although disheartening to hear, he was adamant that change was imminent through the immense work undertaken by alternative law groups and lawyers in the Philippines to increase access to justice and push for reform. Although I learnt a great deal from my colleagues at AHRC and the numerous lawyers and advocates I interacted with, conversations like these remind me that I learnt most from my batchmates. In every discussion, I was reminded of their shared passion and dedication to work towards greater justice, specifically for marginalized and vulnerable communities in the Philippines. To my fellow batchmates (#batchKamanwalu), thank you for taking me in and teaching me so much. Mahal kita.