“Equality and social justice are worth all of our collective efforts.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Colleagues, friends, supporters and clients commended what they call as lawyers for the people as they hold their fifth national congress with the theme “Conquering Challenges in People’s Lawyering” on Oct. 19, Saturday at the Rizal Park Hotel in Manila.
They applaud the lawyers for steadfastly fighting alongside the poor and oppressed, not only in the four corners of the courtroom but also out in the streets.
Llore Pasco of Rise Up for Life and for Rights thanked the lawyers of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) for giving them strength to stand up, speak and file cases against the perpetrators of the killings of their loved ones under President Duterte’s so-called war on drugs.
She described NUPL lawyers as their guides who tirelessly help them in their cases. She said that these lawyers go beyond the courts and immersed with them in their communities, taught them their rights and patiently listened to them. She said they are honored to have met the NUPL who are serving the marginalized.
“On our own we could not file cases against the perpetrators because we are powerless and we don’t have connections. But with NUPL, we have someone we can rely on.
The mother of Mary Jane Veloso also thanked the NUPL lawyers for their patience. She said with the NUPL and the OFW group Migrante, she found strength during those times that she thought there was no more hope to save the life of her daughter .
She is also grateful that the Supreme Court has finally allowed Mary Jane to tell her story while she’s in prison.
More than a decade of peoples’ lawyering
The NUPL was founded in 2007 when political killings escalated in the country under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. NUPL President Edre Olalia said lawyers, whose clients were also activists and poor were also being subjected to attacks during the Macapagal regime.
As a response to the calls of the time, human rights lawyers and law students across the nation came together and united for the defense and protection of human rights and national sovereignty and founded the NUPL, said Olalia.
Olalia said they called themselves as “lawyers for the people” who provide pro bono legal services, pursue different campaigns, conduct research and education, build international solidarity and organize among their ranks.
“By calling ourselves as lawyers of the people we have made a remarkable choice; we have decided not to remain in the sidelines where human rights are assaulted,” Olalia said.
Despite the dangers of their chosen path of legal practice, members of the NUPL grew further over the years. From 89 members in 2007, NUPL members now number 500 and it has 50 chapters nationwide.
“There are new lawyers and young ones, ready to take the baton that we will pass on,” Olalia said.
Olalia also recognized that they have won battles in the courts but they did not fight it alone. He said it is a “culmination of all the ingredients of peoples’ lawyering.”
“Creative legal tactics, mass movements, metalegal action, massive legal awareness international solidarity and alliance work, sustained campaign and mass media engagement,” he said.
Acknowledging NUPL’s brand of practice
Meanwhile, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in his keynote speech also praised the NUPL’s “brand of practice” saying that it’s about time that this kind of practice should be acknowledged in the country’s legal system and not as a mere “traditional legal aid” or giving legal services for free for indigent clients.
A traditional legal aid, said Leonen, only involves a lawyer when conflicts arise to explain to them how the law works but have no deeper understanding not only of their clients’ case but also their conditions. He said traditional legal aid is exhausting.
He explained further, “For instance doing legal aid for rape cases sharpens the skills in litigation but it dulls the sensitivity to protect women and children. Doing legal aid that comes for many as civil and political rights litigation may elevate the stature of some of its practitioners but without an understanding of the fuller context of inequality and social injustice. Without really becoming involved, it just becomes another job, again, without passion.”
He said that “NUPL is beyond traditional legal aid.”
This is why Leonen believes that the compulsory legal aid which is a requirement to newly passed lawyers is not enough to persuade them into peoples’ lawyering. Often, new lawyers only see it as a hindrance to further study the laws in the country.
He urged the NUPL to continue with their brand of lawyering and not to give up as there is more to be done.
“The line of fire is always a place of honor. You live it; you struggle with it; it defines your life. Equality and social justice are worth all of our collective efforts,” said Leonen.
Former Senator and lawyer Rene Saguisag, Antonio La Vina of Manananggol Laban sa EJK and Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Domingo “Egon” Q. Cayosa also expressed solidarity with the NUPL members as well as lawyers organizations abroad such as the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.
NUPL Chairman Neri Colmenares said that in order to conquer the challenges, the peoples’ lawyers should also unify their ranks especially in the midst of the grave impunity in the country.
“Not only among ourselves but to other legal groups and the people,” said Colmenares.
He stressed that no matter how long, there will be change in society for as long as there is hope.
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