Law Students Expand Access to Justice in Flagship Internship Program
DINAGAT ISLANDS, Philippines – Law students from various universities immersed themselves in these Islands at the northern tip of Mindanao last January 12 to 18, 2020, assisting in the paralegal training of barangays and drafting resolutions on issues relevant to the communities, such as the declaration of community watersheds.
Parallel to the interns’ immersion, student facilitators who were part of past internship programs, and lawyers and staff from the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) collaborated with the provincial legal office and the Office of the Governor to conduct a gender sensitivity training for the government employees. They assisted senior high school students in drafting a resolution proposing safe spaces in schools to the provincial board.
For the students of the Dr. Ruben Edera Ecleo Senior Memorial National High School, the AHRC team organized a forum on online sexual harassment.
They also reached out to community leaders so that they would have a deeper understanding of justice-related issues as part of the AHRC’s Access to Justice and legal empowerment programs.
The AHRC, with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), brought its internship program for lawyers to Dinagat Islands, the first time the program took place in Mindanao. More than 30 law students from four law schools — the Ateneo de Manila University, Ateneo de Naga University, St. Louis University in Baguio, and University of Cebu — joined the immersion in the province.
Building a nation
“By the end of the Immersion, I arrived at a life-changing realization, the Bayanihan philosophy,” says student intern Steph Naval. “It enlightened me with the philosophy of Bayanihan or ‘being in a bayan,’ which refers to the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal. We were not the locals’ champions, but rather we were kababayan. I appreciated how we established a spirit of communal unity, then worked and cooperated to achieve a particular goal, that of nation-building.”
Launched in 1987, the internship program aims to introduce law students to human rights advocacy and alternative law practice by exposing them to the plight of the most vulnerable communities. The FNF has been a partner of the AHRC’s Internship Program since 2004.
As the flagship and pioneer program of the AHRC, it has produced numerous lawyers, many of whom have chosen to practice alternative law and go into human rights advocacy. One such distinct alumna is Arlene “Kaka” J. Bag-ao, governor of the Dinagat Islands. Both Bag-ao and AHRC executive director Ray Paolo J. Santiago were recipients of the Freedom Flame Award in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The interns were able to experience, first-hand, working with poor communities and gather information relevant to the AHRC’s Access to Justice project.
Bag-ao stressed that their immersion will enrich their knowledge of human rights advocacy as future lawyers: “They should be able to understand poverty, including related human rights issues, and know the various sectors — fishing, mining, farming— they were assigned to and how their issues relate to the whole Philippines.”