Helping Communities Defend The Earth
ELAC was formed in 1990 as a special project of the Protestant Lawyers’ League of the Philippines (PLLP). The country was still recovering from human rights abuses from the Marcos era, and the project was an effort to mobilize human rights lawyers for legal advocacy on behalf of communities affected by environmental problems. It was a response to the emerging challenge of environmental lawyering especially in the rural areas where environmental degradation is most felt.
From 1990 to 1993, ELAC was composed of a group of volunteer lawyers who participated in people’s monitoring teams, task forces, and environmental investigative missions in response to various development projects and environmental concerns. ELAC also collaborated with various organizations in conducting environmental law seminars and paralegal trainings, and in forming coalitions/networks on environmental issues.
In 1994, ELAC organized a core of full-time staff, an office in Palawan, and coordinating sites in Cebu and Northern Leyte. The following year, offices were established in Cebu and Leyte. The Leyte office addressed environmental issues in Eastern Visayas, including Samar Island. In 1996, ELAC established links with some lawyers in Bohol. This paved the way for a Bohol office in 1997. In the same year, ELAC was duly registered as a non-profit, non-government organization in the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Community-Based Resource Management (CBRM) was later developed as a long-term strategy to combat environmental problems and to help communities become managers of the resources in their localities. ELAC began CBRM programs in Honda Bay (1996) and Coron (1998), both in Palawan. The CBRM projects in Bantayan, Cebu and in Mabini, Bohol followed afterwards.
In 1998, a satellite office was set up in Coron to make ELAC more accessible to the indigenous peoples living there. Satellite offices were likewise established in Eastern Samar and Western Visayas to respond to requests for legal assistance in these areas in the Visayas.
However, the satellite offices were not sustained due to the lack of funding support. ELAC decided to maintain offices in Palawan, Bohol, Cebu and Leyte. Presently, the main office is in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
ELAC has been through a lot of organizational and operational challenges but its vision, mission, goals, and programs keep the organization intact and alive, willing and ready to face other challenges ahead. For as long as the environment is abused, and for as long as the community’s rights to a balanced and healthful ecology are violated and threatened, ELAC will continue its work of helping communities defend the earth.