10 Stories, 10 Triumphs, 10 Years of Wonderful Life Choices

10 Stories, 10 Triumphs, 10 Years of Wonderful Life Choices

Keynote Address of Rep. Kaka J. Bag-ao, Akbayan Partylist (Chair, Board of Trustees, BALAOD Mindanaw)

BALAOD’s Tenth Year Anniversary at Chali Beach, Misamis Oriental

August 11, 2010

Last night I stood up in the halls of Congress to deliver my first privilege speech and spoke of the atrocities that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo committed against agrarian reform. I spoke in the face of her friends. Today I rise to speak about  BALAOD  and its victories in front of my friends.

Colleagues in Balaod, friends and partners, maayong hapon.

Today we celebrate Balaod’s 10 fruitful years and it is only fitting that we mark Balaod’s age not only in terms of time but in terms of its hard-earned victories. Hindi lang tayo tumanda, meron tayong pinagtandaan. I say that our victories are hard-earned because more often than not, we have achieved these victories in the face of adversities and we have our scars to show for them.

I attribute the success of these ten years not to us and to our abilities, but to the philosophy that has guided us through the dark days when we have thought nothing is possible, and through the days when we have seen that nothing is impossible. When we started BALAOD Mindanaw, we vowed to remain true and faithful to what we believe in, that we will take the law and put it in the hands of the poor and the marginalized. This principle has been the creed that we have followed and put into action, illustrated by the ten stories that define our ten years this year 2010. This principle has been the very heart and soul of our work as alternative lawyers, as paralegals, as advocates.

1.    We have fought for the rights of farmers, indigenous people, women and other marginalized sectors. We fought this fight not in the traditional fashion, not as lawyers defending the rights of our clients. We fought this fight by “putting the law into their hands”  – by making the law a tool for them in fighting and defending their rights.  No different from a plow that they use to caress the land into bearing fruits. This process has empowered simple farmers and gave them the knowledge, skills, orientation and confidence in their own abilities which enabled them to transcend the barriers of poverty and become experts in the law.

2.    Our brand of paralegalism revolutionized legal practice by turning ordinary citizens from being mere objects of pity and benevolence to becoming warriors of their rights. Through the paralegal process, ordinary farmers, fisherfolks, Lumad and women became advocates and defenders of their own causes who now have the confidence not only in their numbers but also in their ability to argue for what is rightfully theirs.

3.    Our paralegal formation puts premium on the advancement of women’s rights and welfare.  We take with us on our 10th year the stories of women paralegals who were strengthened by the knowledge they obtained as well the solidarity they felt with other women.  It is not rare for these paralegals to know both the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law and the Violence Against Women and Children Law.  As such, they often get their CLOAs along with the renewed respect of their husband and community.

4.    Our engagements in the courts of law radicalized the litigation process. Pursuing our advocacies inside the courts allowed us not only to win specific cases for the marginalized sectors like that of Hacienda Maria, it provided us with the golden opportunity to influence jurisprudence. Our legal victories made its impact beyond the limits of the specific cases and influence public policy.

5.    If there is one coalition that BALAOD-Mindanaw is proud to be a member of, it would be the Alternative Law Groups or the ALG, a network of law-based organizations working for the empowerment of the poor and marginalized.  We were honored to have the chance to convene it from 2004 to 2006.  During this period, the ALG embarked on fresh efforts such as policy advocacy and the internal restructuring of the coalition.  ALG’s policy advocacy led to the passage of two landmark laws namely the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act and the CARP Extension with Reforms Law.  The internal restructuring allowed the creation of mechanisms for easier coordination between and among the 20 law organizations.

6.    We take INTERNSHIP seriously.  It is one of the pillars of alternative lawyering.  Along with the other members of the ALG, we took internship a step further: we aspired for and then inch by inch created law school based organizations.  In Mindanaw, we were happy to be part of the creation of KAIBAN-FSUU, USBAWAN and HUSAY in MSU-IIT, CALL in Liceo de Cagayan, ALABS-U in Bukidnon State University, and XUCLA in Xavier University.

7.    We have also managed to make footholds at the local levels. Through our engagements in local governance, our partner communities learned the ropes of participation in local policy making, giving them the opportunity to shape the policies and laws that directly affect their lives. This has opened the eyes of local governments of the importance of popular participation in governance.

8.    The Sumilao farmers made history. Their 1,700-kilometer march and their struggle has become a milestone in agrarian reform history. The struggle of the Sumilao farmers has  empowered them to the extent that made them realize that they cannot simply question the application of the law in their case. But they have to go on much further – to find ways to shift the balance of forces into their favor in order to neutralize the economic and political advantage of their opponent and level the playing field. They captured the hearts and imagination of a nation who responded in overwhelming show of solidarity that brought a giant corporation to its knees. If this is not EMPOWERMENT, I do not know what is.

9.    Our participation in the passage of the CARPER law, whose first year anniversary we commemorated a few days ago, was a perfect example where all of the weapons that we have mastered and harnessed were combined. Mass mobilizations and popular  campaigns, networking with other forces and legislative lobbying. Our experiences in all these fields of engagement became our advantage. We were able to effectively push of the reforms that we want to incorporate in the law and block the unfavorable provisions being pushed by agrarian reform’s opponents. Our participation in the passage of the CARPER law reached the extent that we can claim it to be one of our legacies.

10. Finally, we have opened a new front in our work of shaping policies and laws and in promoting the welfare and interests of the marginalized. By becoming Akbayan’s representative in Congress we have gained a new platform to continue our struggles, engagements and advocacies. From the sidelines and from the streets, we can now wage our battles within the same halls and the same floor that the powers that be use to protect their privilege and the status quo. We are now facing a brand new challenge: to craft legislation that will continue to work for the advancement of the poor and the marginalized.

Our journey is a journey not of sacrifices, but of choices. In the fork road of life, we chose to forego a life made easy by affluence, and instead chose a life made easy for others. We chose a path many would not consider; we chose to walk across islands, go against corporations and those with political clout, and empower those who are oppressed for them to fight against the giants themselves. We chose to utilize our abilities and creativity in order to uphold what is legal, what is just, and what is right. We chose to stand with, fight with and work with the peasant and marginalized groups. We chose a profession where the rewards are not in our pockets but in the lives we have changed for the better, the impossibilities we have shattered, the recognition we have earned, and the wisdom we have acquired from our experiences for ten years.

I share our triumphs of these ten years with the people who have been our comrades and companions throughout the decade. Some have moved on to other advocacies, other callings, and have traversed other roads. Most of us have stayed with BALAOD Mindanaw, starting another journey and continuing on the road we all have chosen to take from the very beginning. But these ten years would not even be a reality without those who started the decade with us, most especially the farmers, the fisherfolks, the women, the indigenous people and others – those that most consider as “victims”, but those that we all consider as “heroes”. They and the stories they tell are the living testaments that continue to inspire us to do better and be better, and I remain optimistic that we will be going stronger for another ten years.

To end, this is how I define our decade-long journey: that we have made even one life breathe easier because we have lived – this is to say that we have succeeded.

Maraming salamat po.

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