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Lawyers’ Group, CERNET and CSOs Conduct a Free Legal Clinic

1378698_733862849963368_166481231_nThe National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) – Cebu, in cooperation with the Community Empowerment Resource Network (CERNET) Inc., ABS – CBN Central Visayas Regional Network and Visayas Human Development Agency (VIHDA) Inc. held a free legal clinic in Cebu Technological University (CTU) during ABS – CBN’s Grand Halad Kapamilya on October 5, 2013.

The pool of lawyers and paralegals served one hundred fourteen (114) clients from 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 PM. According to Amy Garcia, CERNET’s Legal Services and Advocacy Program officer, “The success of the event can be attributed to the coordinated efforts of CERNET, NUPL and other civil society organizations. It helped a lot of people, especially those from the marginalized sectors.”

“In the Philippines, the government’s lack of legal assistance and services is one of the causes why impunity reigns.” Garcia added.

Lawyers from various expertise tackled marital problems, property issues, labor and agrarian disputes, and abuse of authority among other cases during the event. “It is also equally important to gather and encourage lawyers to volunteer in this kind of event in order to introduce and promote public interest lawyering so they can witness the broader picture of poverty and social reality.” Garcia concluded.

Legal Services and Advocacy Updates

The LSA desk is handling a new project entitled “Litigation of Trumped-Up Cases of Human Rights Defenders and Campaign Against State’s Legal Offensive”  funded by EKD. A total of 10cases are being handled by LSA for five (5) PO partners facing legal problems

From June 2011 to December 2012, the Legal Services and Advocacy desk formed three sectoral committees for workers or urban poor, peasants, and Human Rights in Cebu with each committee composed of a pool of lawyers and paralegals respectively. It has also established new linkages with two lawyer organizations namely Integrated Bar of the Philippines- Dumaguete and Panay/ Negros Occidental, and one law school specifically Southwestern University in Cebu City.

Furthermore, the LSA desk has assisted and defended three cases of PO partners; and two PO partners (NAKALAP and AMA- Sugbo) have also availed of legal assistance from networks.

First Visayas Wide People’s Lawyers Conference Held

To advance its advocacy for human rights, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) in coordination with CERNET spearheaded the 1st Visayas People’s Lawyer’s Conference. It was held on May 26- 27, 2012 at Rajah Park Hotel, Cebu City.

Lawyers and paralegals from different regions in the Visayas such as Negros Oriental, Eastern Visayas, Panay, Cebu and Negros attended the said conference.

National figures such as Satur Ocampo, former Congressman and MAKABAYAN convenor, and Representative Neri Colminares of BAYANMUNA graced the event to give inputs and discussions.

The conference- workshop groups tackled actual cases of different provinces in the Visayas to determine the appropriate actions such as filing of cases and prosecuting violators of human rights. The result of the 2- day workshop was a  Visayas- wide coordinating committee to keep track of the plans made of the respective groups.

Repeal Ordinance No. 5

One of the cases discussed was the two separate cases for violation of Provincial Ordinance No. 5 which has been filed against three human rights workers and are pending before the inferior court in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental.

In a position paper for the repeal of Ordinance No. 5, the group said that the ordinance is being used by the military to harass human rights and development workers who deliver basic services to marginalized people in far- flung areas.

For the repeal of Provincial Ordinance No. 5, NUPL Visayas’ lawyers and  paralegals held a case conference and filed a petition at the Court of Appeals- Cebu on June 18, 2012 declaring the Ordinance as “unconstitutional”. On the other hand, a Writ of Amparo for the case of Eastern Visayas/ Samar was filed in Cebu in June 2012 and criminal cases and administrative cases in July 2012.

NUPL- Visayas reiterated their unity to repeal Ordinance No. 5  declaring that it is unconstitutional and invalid, vague, invalid exercise of police power, redundant, violates the right of citizens to travel, and discourage NGO activities that benefit poor communities.

With this, a solidarity group was formed in Negros Oriental to lobby for the repeal of the said ordinance. Another gain for the fight against the repressive Ordinance was the congressional inquiry undertaken on October 6, 2012  in coordination with the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in Cebu. CERNET was tasked to convene the prospective witnesses from the other parts of the Visayas.

NUPL lawyers with CERNET also conducted a jail visit of a political prisoner last September 14, 2012.

Developing Strategic Partnerships towards Community Empowerment

Taking radical steps toward achieving its goal of community empowerment, CERNET started engaging in strategic partnership with people’s organizations in the Visayas by mid- 2011 when it embarked on the implementation of the fourth phase of its community empowerment resource project (CERP 4) funded by EED.  The CERNET- PO strategic partnership aims to develop people’s organizations  that are  capable of implementing and sustaining development projects that will improve the economic, political and cultural conditions in their communities. This involves supporting PO partners’  socio-economic and organizational endeavors on a long- term basis compared to the previous strategy of providing fund support for a maximum of one- year per PO partner. For the three-year program of CERP 4, CERNET employed the strategic partnership approach with one urban poor PO in Cebu, and two peasant POs in Bohol, and in Negros Oriental.

Midway into the three-year project, the three strategic PO partners namely Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Planas (KASAMAPA), Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa San Jose (NAMASAJO), and Nagkahiusang Kabus sa Lapu-Lapu (NAKALAP) are effectively and efficiently managing their projects. Staff monitoring results indicates that KASAMAPA and NAMASAJO have the capacity to sustain their development projects. Aside from their management capabilities, which were enhanced through trainings and seminars by CERNET’s PO- Capacity Building Program, PO officers have developed their skills in networking and resource generation.

A successful case story is that of KASAMAPA in Barangay Planas, Guihulngan, Negros Oriental. Majority of its members and their families were gravely affected by the earthquake which hit and destroyed their homes and livelihood in February 2012. However, through collective efforts of the PO and the community, they were able to rise from the pits of devastation and showed community leadership. Despite some understandable delay, the PO was able to continue the implementation of their income- generating projects. They were also able to generate resources from the local government units in the municipality in support of its CERNET- funded project; the PO was also able to raise funds for livelihood projects from other funding agencies specifically the corn mill which they are managing out of the funds from the International Committee on Red Cross (ICRC); and they facilitated the medical and relief missions for its members and the community by tapping support from other civil society groups.

With these positive impacts and developments in one of our strategic PO partners, CERNET is assured that it will be able to achieve its three- year objective of empowering at least two out of three strategic PO partners. Working in solidarity with our development partners, CERNET is definitely on the right track towards the realization of its vision of community empowerment.