Developmental Legal Assistance
This program component’s objective is to provide concerned and organized communities with legal assistance in the defense of their environmental, as well as tenurial, rights. It also aims to promote their meaningful participation in the Philippine legal system by engaging them as partners, from the apprehension to the prosecution of environmental law violators. Strategies include legal representation in administrative and judicial cases (both emergency and long-term cases), and meta-legal action.
ELAC aims to develop the knowledge and skills of its staff in environmental law, sustainable development, and community-based resource management. Building a network of project partners and volunteers among local and international NGOs, legal and scientific professionals, students, local government units, and government agencies, as well as sustaining ELAC’s projects through fundraising activities, is also part of the program components.
Community-Based Resource Management
ELAC works with partner communities in securing their tenurial rights, and in designing and implementing natural resource management plans. In relation to tenurial security, ELAC provides legal and technical support in securing tenurial/legal instruments, such as the certificate of ancestral domain titles (CADTs) of indigenous peoples and community-based forest management agreements (CBFMAs) for forest-dependent communities. CBRM work likewise includes community-organizing, participatory resource appraisals, development of micro-enterprises as alternative livelihood, and the creation of paralegal and environmental monitoring teams.
ELAC’s advocacy seeks the legislation and implementation of responsible and socially responsive environmental laws and policies, especially at the local level. To complement this, it also works to sustain the lines of cooperation with local, national, and international organizations, government agencies, and local government units. Advocacy involves participation in multi-sectoral bodies/ coalitions, and the promotion and proposal of environmentally responsible laws, policies, and programs in public forums.
ELAC recognizes the important role of science in all of its program components. Thus, a proactive and centralized research that cuts across all programs is necessary. This supports developmental legal assistance, advocacy work, and community-based resource management. Specific research activities include participatory resource assessments, policy researches, environmental investigative missions, and social investigations.
Education and Training
ELAC conducts environmental law and ecological awareness seminars, leadership and paralegal trainings, and environmental monitoring and resource assessment workshops to develop a team of community members capable of responding to the needs of environmental defense. Participants include community leaders, non-government organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations (POs), officials of local government units (LGUs), and members of citizens’ groups and government law enforcement agencies.
This program component aims to provide an expedient remedy to communities whose survival is threatened by the continued destruction of their environment by persistent law offenders. This initiative is primarily implemented in partnership with members of government agencies tasked to enforce environmental laws, and the affected local communities. Some instances, however, require that ELAC staff themselves conduct arrests, generally for facility and to avoid preemption. This concept is based on the “citizen’s arrest” provision of Section 9, Rule 113 of the Rules of Court of the Philippines.
ELAC’s Work with Indigenous People
ELAC’s engagement with IP communities started in 1990 when ELAC was still a special project of the PLLP. A lawyer-volunteer attended a meeting organized by the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) in 1990 relating to indigenous issues and the proposed Grand Antamok Project in the Cordillera area.
Since then, ELAC has been providing legal assistance to IPs, mainly in Palawan, where it holds its main office. Starting out with the conduct of seminars and capacity building sessions involving IP and environmental laws and policies, and advocacy towards the passage of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), IP programs and the issuance of Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claims (CADCs), and later CADTs (certificate of ancestral domain titles) to IP groups in Palawan, ELAC has built networks with IP federations and groups such as the Nagkakaisang Tribu ng Palawan (NATRIPAL) and Bangsa Palawan in mainland Palawan, and the Saragpunta Federation in Coron/Busuanga, Northern Palawan.
With the creation of its CBRM program in 1997, ELAC went beyond legal assistance, education and advocacy, and provided technical support to IP communities in Coron and Bataraza. ELAC assisted IP groups in securing needed data/information as part of the CADT claim, documenting indigenous knowledge, systems and practices (IKSP) and surveying watersheds and marine protected areas within ancestral domain claims. In Barangay Tara, Coron, ELAC provided legal and technical support in the establishment of the proposed marine sanctuary which was part of the ancestral territory of the Tagbanua community in the area.
Currently, ELAC is assisting the Pala’wan community in Barangays Sumbiling and Taratak, Municipality of Bataraza, in securing their CADT claim. In particular, ELAC helped prepare the ancestral domain recognition book which entailed, among others, the identification of the boundaries of the CADT area and preparation of the initial map and established 100 controll monuments. ELAC likewise provided the actual survey of the CADT through NCIP G.E.s. Throughout this process, ELAC has been working with the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Moreover, ELAC in partnership with various NGOs, specifically, Ecosystems Alliance (IUCN), the Non-Timber Forest Products-Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP), Flora and Fauna International (FFI), Institute for the Development of Ecological Alternatives (IDEAS) and NATRIPAL, is providing legal assistance and technical support to Pala’wan and Tagbanua IP communities in the municipalities of Brookes Point, Narra and Quezon in securing their watershed and CADT processess. ELAC has conducted trainings, community consultations, forest land use planning sessions and engagements with NCIP, local officials and other community stakeholders.
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