Philippines: Focus on LRC-KSK / Legal Rights & Natural Resources Center
Interview with melizel F. Asuncion, the regional lawyer of the Luzon Regional Office of LRC-KsK
I am the regional lawyer of the Luzon Regional Office of LRC-KsK. I started in LRC in June 2000 as a paralegal staff of the Direct Legal Services Team and after passing the Bar Examinations in March 2002, I was assigned as the regional lawyer of LRC’s Davao Regional Office until December 2002 and from there, I transferred to my current office. I have a degree in English Studies, majoring in the English Language and a Bachelor’s Degree in Law, both from the University of the Philippines.
Public interest law was regrettably not emphasized in my law school. The thrust was more towards law firm practice and/or academia. But, while a student, I was fortunate to attend the First Alternative Law Conference in 1999 that dealt with law for the public interest. Particularly, the conference aimed to develop a shared understanding of concepts relating to public interest law and the administration of justice contributing to the development of the judicial system which eventually, would benefit and empower basic sectors. By attending several sessions dealing with different sectors’ issues and challenges, I saw the other side of the spectrum of law practice. I realized that a lawyer’s work could be for reasons other than earning money, clocking billable hours and winning cases. The profession may be used as a tool for advocacy.
I particularly chose to join LRC because I became interested in its thematic issues, i.e., environment, indigenous peoples and gender. LRC emphasizes the equitable use of natural resources through community-initiated sustainable plans. It manages to harmonize the seemingly contrary objectives of environmental management and indigenous peoples’ rights by looking at environment and the ecological system in its entirety, with the indigenous peoples as imperative components.
In 1992, LRC-KsK became the official Philippine member of the Friends of the Earth International. In the same year, it was elected to the FoEI Executive Committee and has since been active in FoEI campaigns. LRC-KsK realizes the wisdom of joining the Friends of the Earth network because it sees the relevance of linking grassroots community issues with international work. Understanding the global/international context enriches the direction and orientation of local community struggles. In 1996, LRC-KsK, as FoE Philippines was designated as the Asian regional coordinator for FoEI’s Trade, Environment and Sustainability (TES) Program. Established in 1992, the program aims to address the impact of international trade and investment patterns and regulations on environmental protection and the development of equitable and sustainable societies.
About the organization
The Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/ Friends of the Earth-Philippines is a policy and legal research and advocacy institution. It is organized as a non-stock, non-profit, non-partisan, cultural, scientific and research foundation that started its actual operations in February 1988. The goal of LRC-KsK/FoE Philippines is to empower marginalized and disenfranchised peoples directly dependent on our natural resources so as to be able to affect ecologically sustainable, culturally appropriate, economically viable, gender sensitive, equitable uses, management, conservation and development of our natural resources.
Since its inception in 1987, LRC-KsK has developed expertise on the issues of indigenous peoples’ rights, resource tenure, natural resource management, forestry, mining, energy and local community initiatives. Central to the activities of LRC-KsK is the critiquing of policies and laws affecting indigenous peoples and natural resources. Paralegal trainings are conducted with partner communities. Cases are filed in the courts as deemed fit by the communities in the context of their own campaigns and struggles.
LRC-KsK also engages the media, and forms networks with organizations from local, national and international spheres in support of local campaigns. With the assistance of Legal Policy experts, it strives to articulate policy alternatives that are intimately linked with those communities directly dependent upon our natural resources. LRC works through its national teams, namely, the Direct Legal Services, Research and Policy Development, Campaigns and Support Linkages, Administrative Support and Financial Resource Management teams and the Project Development Section. It also services communities through its regional offices in Luzon, Cagayan de Oro and Davao.
One of the current advocacy programs of LRC-KsK is the anti-mining campaign in Marinduque. Currently, I am handling our legal case in Mogpog, Marinduque following the spill of the Maguila-guila dam, operated and owned by Marcopper Mining Corporation and Placer Dome Incorporated, a Canadian mining company that contaminated the Mogpog River, totally destroying life and causing damage to the residents. Through this case, we are facilitating the action of the community for compensation and the rehabilitation of the river. The Maguila-guila spill was just one of the series of destruction that Marcopper Mining Corporation and Placer Dome, Inc. caused in the island of Marinduque but they are still denying their responsibility to the people. They continue to attempt to defeat the administration of justice and evade their corporate responsibility to the Philippines. We are still in the process of processing the case that was filed in April 2001.
I am also one of the lead counsels of the case of Desama, et al versus Climax-Arimco Mining Corporation et al filed in the Supreme Court on 6 May 2003. The petitioners in this case are primarily challenging the constitutionality of the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) awarded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to Climax-Arimco, an Australian mining corporation. The case is a community initiative of several indigenous peoples’ groups, including the Ifugaos, Kankanaeys and the Ibalois of Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya.
LRC-KsK has volunteer and internship programs in our national office and our regional offices. We also appreciate solidarity messages and we encourage financial and technical support for our communities’ initiatives. Please visit our website www.lrcksk.org for details on how you can help us.