Print logo

Clker-Free-Vector-Images; PIXABAY

Legal Empowerment and Access to Justice

Despite the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the previous administration, there remains an optimism that the peace negotiations will continue to a meaningful conclusion into the new administration. The hopes of a people remain pinned on the political process to deliver the elusive but much-deserved peace as the way towards improved lives and better opportunities for the Bangsamoro. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that over the years much has already been done to bring about improved lives and better communities through the efforts of both (national and regional) government and Muslim civil society, not to mention other sectors. It may be observed that the orientation and consequent capacity for self-governance and participatory governance grows as a counterpoint to the path of insurgency. This is being achieved variously through community organizing, civil society strengthening, professionalization of local administration, improving capacity for delivery of basic services and others. And, beyond the vagaries of the politics of the peace negotiations, while important, much must continue to be done at the local and community level to secure peace and justice and improved lives on a daily basis for ordinary Muslim Filipinos.

Fortifying the rule of law in Muslim-dominated areas on one hand, and upholding and advancing legal and human rights of every Muslim Filipino on the other, is one of the critical goals that must be pursued with equal fervor and competence. Improved access to justice and legal education and empowerment of communities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is crucial to instilling belief in systems of justice and in legal processes that serve to build peace and a culture of democratic governance. And, importantly, social and economic justice can be realized in the immediate term for Muslim Filipinos while awaiting the longer-term gains of a peace process negotiated to fruition.

Excluding the much-chronicled secessionist battles and mutually destructive warfare between various Muslim and government armies, one frequently cited cause of lawless disruption of life and livelihood is the “rido” conflicts or clan feuds. These conflicts have resulted in much loss of life, displacement, destruction of property, and setting back of local economies and in the further impoverishment of the families and communities affected. A survey of the top causes of “rido” conflicts reveals that they often stem from common legal problems confronted in every corner of the country. Beyond “rido,” there are other legal problems arising from gaps or flaws in the justice system or failures of law enforcement that plague this region and encourage distrust and resort to extra-legal if not illegal remedies.

The struggle for the human and legal rights of the Muslim Filipino also goes beyond the borders of the autonomous region. An increasing number of Muslim Filipinos have chosen to seek safety and better opportunities for their families in towns and cities around the country. This migration mirrors to an extent what is happening in Europe today and in many other parts of the world. While often brought about by dire necessity, this migration in and around the Philippines may also be seen as an inevitable social process with positive implications as it moves Philippine society towards embracing its rich multicultural heritage and fosters peaceful integration and hopefully, inclusivity.

This desired process of integration is, however, being birthed in conflict and discrimination. Illegal arrests, mistaken identities and evidence planting are other common occurrences in migrant Muslim communities. Without any support network nor knowledge of laws affecting their rights, Muslim Filipinos often languish in jails and detention centers without the protection of due process. Thus, the human rights issue is inextricably linked to issues of access to justice.

The NCMF is convinced that a strong access to justice and paralegal program for Muslim Filipinos at the grassroots is a basic strategy and a fundamental requirement in any effort to advance human rights and the rule of law; and to convey a picture of a people who are fully prepared for self-governance. (NCMF Proposal)