ABA ROLI and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) successfully conducted their seventh and eighth Legal Aid Caravans (LACs) for indigenous peoples (IPs) on June 21 and 23, 2022. This initiative is part of ABA ROLI’s five-year “Access to Justice and Support for the Rule of Law” (ACCESS) program, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The first part of this Mindanao leg of the LAC was jointly organized with IBP’s Agusan del Sur Chapter, led by Chapter President Atty. Marcelo Caupayan. Held in the Municipality of Talagcogon, it served 54 IP clients (21 women) from the Manobo tribe. Thirteen volunteer lawyers rendered free legal aid services, including drafting of affidavits, legal consultation and notarial services.
The LAC program aims to forge strong ties between the IBP and the local government units (LGUs) in conducting initiatives to support IPs with long-term impacts. Ms. Jireh Mae Saludar from the Talacogon Municipal Office of Administration spoke to this support when she delivered a message of solidarity and appreciation to ABA ROLI, IBP, and USAID on behalf of Mayor Pauline Mae Masendo. She stated Talacogon will continue to hold such activities with the IBP to address the concerns of their IP constituents. As part of the awareness raising component of the LAC, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Regional Legal Officer Atty. Fritzie Lynne Sumando discussed IP rights and nurse Edeline Tortor from the Municipal Health Office talked about COVID-19 preventive measures. The event was featured on PTV Agusan del Sur, a local news network.
On June 23, 2022, following the Agusan del Sur activity, ABA ROLI conducted its eighth LAC together with the IBP Surigao del Sur Chapter in Villa Azarcon Tago. Chapter President Atty. Florante Clod Sanico led the legal aid caravan alongside 16 volunteer lawyers. For the awareness raising segment of the program, Regional Trial Court Judge Edwin Luneta lectured extensively on procedural rights in relation to the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and the rules of court. The activity was attended by 34 IP beneficiaries (6 women), mostly comprising datus (tribal chieftains) from San Miguel in Surigao del Sur. Due to the commonalities of the chieftains’ legal concerns, the participants held an open forum to raise and hear advice and recommendations from the lawyers on issues of ancestral domain and regular court proceedings.
Datu Jimmy Iligan Ginsod and Datu Lee Cumaca of the Manobo tribe and other Indigenous People Mandatory Representatives (IPMRs) conveyed their heartfelt gratitude to the organizers of the LAC, which they noted was the first legal mission in their area focusing on IP rights. Other legal missions have been open to the general public, but IP communities tend to have reservations about participating because they do not believe that their concerns are fully grasped by those outside their communities. Holding a legal aid caravan focused on IP rights enables them to take a more assertive part in the activity with a sense of assurance that their unique grievances will be rightfully addressed.