This article originally appeared on the Asia Foundation blog, “Notes from the Field.”
By Carolyn A. Mercado and Steven Rood
It is always exciting to be able to take a break from program implementation to think more deeply about the theories that underlie development practice on the ground. That is of course the whole point of a teaching sabbatical, and it is what we both enjoyed about the “Experts’ Roundtable on Local-Level Justice in Conflict-Affected and Fragile Regions” hosted by The Asia Foundation in San Francisco last week.
The roundtable sought to better link development theory and research in order to influence law and justice policy and practice on the ground. The legal empowerment theory that we in The Asia Foundation’s Philippines office have been following is both a goal and a process whose implementation is a bit challenging, but nonetheless, appealing to most development practitioners because of its bottom-up approach, beginning with the people. Legal empowerment for the poor has been touted as a pathway out of poverty, but what empirical basis do we have to support this assertion? In the Philippines, civil society engagement, working with community organizations, has resulted in the passage of national laws affecting the marginalized sectors in society (laws such as Urban and Development Housing Act, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, Comprehensive Juvenile Justice System, Magna Carta for Women, among others), but questions remain about the implementation. Are marginalized communities any better off because of these laws? Children who have committed crimes may not be better off outside of prisons; this may have unintentionally made them the target of extra-legal killings. Farmers are economically better off today owning the land they till than when they didn’t but even so, rapid economic improvement has not been achieved.
We’ve seen legal empowerment improve people’s awareness and knowledge of their rights; increase people’s capacity and confidence to legally assert their rights through available legal procedures; and improve their access to legal services. In the implementation of agrarian reform, for instance, we found that providing legal empowerment training to beneficiaries reduced poverty and improved governance of their villages. But has awareness of rights led to greater citizen participation in civic and political affairs of the state? Has it led to a greater demand for accountability and access to justice?
During last week’s roundtable, participants debated the relationship between the formal and informal justice systems. Our experience in the Philippines suggests that formal and informal justice systems should peacefully co-exist and that people should choose what system they go to for redress of their grievances. Indigenous justice systems, for instance, have stood the test of time in the Philippines and they have evolved with the people; they are no less legitimate than the newer formal justice system. The 1987 Philippine Constitution recognizes and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural communities within the framework of national unity and development (Article 2, Section 22). Thus, in a sense, the Philippine government recognizes and respects parallel justice systems in these regions. Moreover, the Barangay Justice System (BJS), a mix between Filipino traditional cultural traditions and modern democratic principles, has inspired other Asian countries to model local-level dispute resolution systems on the Barangay system. Our own research has shown that citizens value the choice that this dual system allows – and is satisfying for parties seeking resolution of their cases.
In the late 1990s, the Philippine Supreme Court attempted to bring the BJS under its purview, with the idea that the formal courts could better provide “justice” to the people. This view was formed in part because many cases successfully resolved by the BJS are in fact invisible to courts, which receive only the cases that failed to reach settlement at the BJS level. In the end, the move was quashed due to the outcry from local government officials and public fears that, like the court system, the BJS would become inaccessible, alien, and costly if managed by the Supreme Court. To date, the BJS has remained under the supervision of the local government units.
At some point during the roundtable the discussion turned to a fundamental question: “Whose problems are we actually solving when dealing with development issues surrounding conflict, security, and governance?” An examination of the obvious answer – those at the community level – in turn raised the question about norms of development practitioners vis-à-vis the citizens in developing countries. For instance, informal systems of justice often discriminate in various ways against women, while the development community certainly has a consensus on the necessity for gender equality. For all the reluctance to impose outside norms on communities, in this case, considerable work has been done to promote more gender equity in informal systems of justice. But raising questions like these is necessary to promote sensitive work in conflict-affected areas.
Carolyn Mercado directs The Asia Foundation’s Law and Human Rights program in the Philippines and Steven Rood is the Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
Last updated January 30, 2013.
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Last updated: February 2, 2023
Welcome to the namati.org website (the “Site”) and the Legal Empowerment Network Forum (the “Forum”) operated by Namati, Inc., a Delaware corporation (“Namati”, “we”, “us” or “our”). We share your concern about the protection of your personal information online.
This Policy describes our privacy practices and sets out your obligations and ours with respect to your use of the Site and the Forum. This Policy applies only to the Site and the Forum and does not necessarily apply to our offline collection of information.
Namati may collect and retain two types of information about Site and Forum visitors: (i) personal information that individual visitors voluntarily provide when interacting on the Site or Forum or on certain other occasions (such as via forms or in emails); and (ii) tracking data, which is data that is automatically collected from every Site and Forum visitor as they use and browse the site.
We may, from time to time, store and archive the information you submit to or through the Site and Forum. The information that we gather may include your name, title, and address, telephone number, email address, credit card number or other elements of personal information. In addition, if you contact us, we may keep a record of your correspondence, including any information contained therein.
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Namati is concerned about the privacy protection of children who access the Internet and this website is not intended for children and we do not knowingly collect data relating to children. Accordingly, the Site and Forum are not intended for use by anyone under the age of 16, and we do not knowingly collect information from anyone under 16 years of age without the consent of a parent or guardian.
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Washington, DC 20036, USA
It is important that the personal data we hold about you is accurate and current. Please keep us informed if your personal data changes during your relationship with us.
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Request access to your personal data (commonly known as a “data subject access request”). This enables you to receive a copy of the personal data we hold about you and to check that we are lawfully processing it.
Request correction of the personal data that we hold about you. This enables you to have any incomplete or inaccurate data we hold about you corrected, though we may need to verify the accuracy of the new data you provide to us.
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Object to processing of your personal data where we are relying on a legitimate interest (or those of a third party) and there is something about your particular situation which makes you want to object to processing on this ground as you feel it has an impact on your fundamental rights and freedoms. You also have the right to object where we are processing your personal data for direct marketing purposes. In some cases, we may demonstrate that we have compelling legitimate grounds to process your information which override your rights and freedoms.
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Request the transfer of your personal data to you or to a third party. We will provide to you, or a third party you have chosen, your personal data in a structured, commonly used, machine-readable format. Note that this right only applies to automated information which you initially provided consent for us to use or where we used the information to perform a contract with you.
Withdraw consent at any time where we are relying on consent to process your personal data. However, this will not affect the lawfulness of any processing carried out before you withdraw your consent. If you withdraw your consent, we may not be able to provide certain products or services to you. We will advise you if this is the case at the time you withdraw your consent.
You will not have to pay a fee to access your personal data (or to exercise any of the other rights). However, we may charge a reasonable fee if your request is clearly unfounded, repetitive or excessive. Alternatively, we could refuse to comply with your request in these circumstances.
We may need to request specific information from you to help us confirm your identity and ensure your right to access your personal data (or to exercise any of your other rights). This is a security measure to ensure that personal data is not disclosed to any person who has no right to receive it. We may also contact you to ask you for further information in relation to your request to speed up our response.
We try to respond to all legitimate requests within one month. Occasionally it could take us longer than a month if your request is particularly complex or you have made a number of requests. In this case, we will notify you and keep you updated.
If you live in an EEA Member State, all of which have adopted the EU GDPR and national , you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority about this policy and its application. The European Commission has a list of EU national data protection authorities here:
If you live in the United Kingdom, you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority, the ICO, about this policy and its application:
The Policy was updated in July 2022 to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations.