Professor Gill H. Boehringer



Lawyers have played a significant role in the history of people’s struggles to seek freedom and social justice. We can see this today in countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Philippines, former colonies still in transformation to free and independent countries no longer subject to neo-colonialism. Lawyers in those countries are struggling – in and out of the legal for a – to resist the repression and corrupt practices of states which continue to further the interests of the rich and powerful in societies which are demonstrably unjust. Today we can see the extent to which authoritarian regimes such as that in another former colony, Fiji, fear and repress the lawyers and courts who make it more difficult to rule by diktat.

We should also remember the history of major imperialist powers such as the UK and USA, for much of the legal armoury used by lawyers in the countries I have mentioned, was forged and tempered in those two countries several hundred years, or more, ago. In England, the lawyers who helped create the common law and, in early modern times, established rights against state power that are the basis for much of the resistance to state authority we see in the contemporary world. And it was in the American colonies, that rebellious citizens and their lawyers successfully challenged the imperial power of Britain in the streets and in the colonial courts, asserting their rights against illegal searches and restrictions on the freedom of speech being critically exercised by the radical colonial press. In a sense, as the modern, imperialist state has been constituted, the progressive lawyers have been summoned to battle. They have responded with great courage and determination.

Each country has its own forms of what we have called elsewhere “resistance lawyering” i.e. the law work that lawyers do on behalf of those fighting for justice and human rights, and against exploitation and repression whether by governments and their operatives ; the structures and agents of corporate capital; or other bodies/individuals of civil society. After spending some time recently in the Philippines researching the history of progressive lawyering in that country, I came to the conclusion that a better term, and focus of study, is what the Filipino’s call “people’s lawyers.” Of course “lawyers for the people” is a term/concept which has been used in other countries over the years, along with “public interest” lawyering. In this paper I will try to indicate the specific nature of the understanding and practice of Filipino “people’s lawyers.”


Of course the specific history of each country – its traditions, culture – is different, and in the Third World the historical relation to colonialism/imperialism also differs from country to country and plays a particularly important role in the manner in which resistance lawyering has developed. In the Philippines, under the Spaniards and later the Americans, university education of an elite took place, thus there were lawyers who played an important role in the nationalist resistance to colonialism (as well as other less positive roles). An interesting example is the 1906 trial of the Filipino hero, General Macario Sakay who had for several years led the resistance to American occupation in Southern Luzon. One of his defense lawyers was abogado Ramon Diokno, the father of Senator Jose Diokno, a leader of the lawyers in the fight against the Marcos regime. Indeed for the period of the American occupation, and into the post-Independence period from 1946, lawyers engaged in radical lawyering against the Americans; and they used a combination of legal and political tactics which marks the Filipino progressive model.

The Americans saw the growth of an educated elite as an important strategy in their domination of the new colony, therefore the establishment of the University of the Philippines, with a law faculty, was seen as an important step in what President McKinley referred to as a “civililizing mission.” It would provide access to university students from less privileged families. Of course, this process of educating an elite was contradictory. In the early days of the occupation, many of the judges and lawyers – both civil and military – were American. Their legal culture carried within it what we might call a republican anti-statist tradition, which probably became part of Filipino legal culture. Also important, no doubt, was the law teaching and Deanship of George A Malcolm at UP (where he taught many of the early leaders of the legal profession, especially the judiciary, and a number of the political leaders). Malcolm, who also served on the colonial Supreme Court, surely aided in inculcating the litigious American tradition. The American version of the common law with its expanded constitutional understanding of judicial review was also not lost on Filipino lawyers who observed the tug-of-war between contending American institutional understandings of civil/military jurisdictions, of the colonial relationship between the two countries, and much more.

In this paper I do not deal with the history of the legal, political and armed struggles in the remainder of the pre-WWII period, except to say that resistance to the Americans continued in all sectors (and militarily, far longer than they will admit), as well as resistance to the exploiting landlords. Lawyers were an integral part of the on-going struggle against repression from state forces, especially, the Philippine Constabulary, and the exploiting landlords with their private military forces.

As for the post-WWII period, from the formal independence in 1946 to the Marcos period, Filipino lawyers were in the forefront of the nationalist struggles against the imposition of American neo-colonial structures and policies such as “parity rights” for American interests. There were other struggles in this period, including the rural resistance to the re-imposition of state-backed landlord exploitation in the wake of the Japanese defeat, a part of the heroic struggle of the HUK guerrillas (who had fought the Japanese with great effect) against an increasingly conservative and repressive state which refused to confront the landlords, with the encouragement and assistance of the neo-colonial power. While there were many other lawyers who were involved in trying to mitigate the repressive actions of the landlord class, and the state which refused to confront them, it is appropriate to mention here attorney – later Senator – Lorenzo Tanada who was to live and fight for many more decades, and provided a link between this early period and later battles e.g. against American bases in the 1990s. He was a great inspirational lawyer/political actor who played an important role in constructing the Filipino model of people’s lawyering. Another was Claro M Recto who as lawyer and Senator fought many of the same fights. (I might mention here Chief Justice Abad Santos who was executed during WW II for refusing to collaborate with the Japanese occupiers).

During the Marcos regime (1965-1986), and especially after the suspension of habeas corpus (1971) and the proclamation of martial law (1972) progressive lawyers such as Tanada, Sen. Jose W Diokno, Bonifacio P Ilagan (now deceased as are the former two), the mercurial Joker Arroyo (now a maverick Senator) and Aquilino Pimentel, Jr (now a trapo Senator in opposition) began to develop the organizations, strategies and tactics which formed the basis for contemporary people’s lawyers to continue the struggle today against the Arroyo neo-liberal/neo-colonial regime which many believe is no less brutal and corrupt than that of Marcos.

The history of those two periods, and those of the following regimes of Corazon Aquino (1986-1992) and General (Philippine Constabulary – under Marcos)/President Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) (neither of which are distinguished by the clean-up of corruption, confrontation with the landlords/dynasties, nor good records on human rights) are not dealt with in this paper; nor is the strange and controversial tenure of Joseph Estrada reviewed (elected in 1998, he was forced from office by the second “People Power” protest for alleged corruption). I have not yet done research in depth to illuminate the role of progressive lawyers in those years. But the research I have done shows clearly the determination and commitment of progressive lawyers in the many struggles for justice of the Filipino people in those further years of agony, and shows also the continuity with the present . Much remains to be researched!


I have spent some time in trying to outline in sketch form the history as I am convinced that it is important for us to recover and write the history of people’s struggles, including that of progressive lawyers which is so often neglected in legal and other historical narratives.

The essential aspect of the Filipino model in my view is its self-understanding, its appreciation of its role. It is what I would call “sophisticated combativeness.” That is to say, the law is used as an instrument for the betterment of the people in a very aggressive manner, but with the sophistication which comes from decades – even more than a century – of struggle against repression and exploitation by powerful and brutal foes. It is understood that the law has its limits, but also that it is strategically and tactically an integral part of the greater struggle for a revolutionary change in the structure of social, political and, fundamentally, the economic relations of a social formation.

Part of that understanding is the importance of three tasks in legal work: 1) litigation in the courts and other venues; 2) advocacy in the broadest sense, throughout society and in/around/against the sites of policy formation and decision-making; and 3) education of the masses – especially but not limited to those who are clients (individual but most importantly groups/organizations). Thus major cases are seen as an opportunity for raising political consciousness of the people involved. Thus even “defeats” at law are seen as having an important potential for developing the understanding of the balance of forces in the country. In the Philippines all three of these tasks seem to be done in a manner and intensity that is, I believe, at a very high level.

One simple example suggests how some of these elements come together. A Conference on Law and Social Justice was held at Malcolm Hall, Law Faculty, U of the Philippines, organized by the National Union of People’s Lawyers and BAYAN one of the most important people’s organizations in the country. The speakers and discussants included a mixed collection of lawyers: the progressive Chief Justice, the now legendary people’s lawyer and Director of the Public Interest Law Center, Attorney Capulong (see extracts from his paper in APPENDIX 2 ); a number of other lawyers, academics and students; activists from workers’, peasants’ and fisher folk organizations and other social movements; progressive members of political parties and the House of Representatives. The audience was similarly a collection of mainly progressive people from a wide range of social sectors and movements, including the media which is used very effectively by progressive forces. Many were ordinary Filipinos who are being victimized by the powerful forces in the country, and the state. The solidarity felt at such an occasion, of which there are a number every year, is an important part of maintaining the combativeness I have mentioned, and developing programs and policies for future advocacy and educational work.

Another example would be the workshops for lawyers and people’s organizations held by the NUPL on litigation remedies such as the writ of amparo, first discussed by people’s lawyers of the NUPL who were being frustrated by the military in attempts to find the “disappeared” (EJD) and those who were being harassed, tortured or killed (EJK). This writ, and the writ of habeas data were then implemented by the same Chief Justice following the Summit on EJKs and EJDs which he called because of the government’s unwillingness to deal with these atrocities. The details and statistics for the work on these writs, and other strategies, are in turn supplied by KARAPATAN which monitors and investigates human rights abuses across the country. This highly effective organization is a funnel through which NUPL, and other organizations, are made quickly aware of, and put in touch with, those who need a people’s lawyer or other assistance. In turn KARAPATAN has a program of advocacy and public education based in a quick-response public information office.

An important part of the model is international legal and solidarity work. Filipino people’s lawyers can be regularly seen in courts and tribunals overseas arguing international law principles against the human rights abuses of the Philippine state. In addition, they can also be seen organizing and taking part in international solidarity missions to support the poor and victims of human rights abuses in other countries, recently in Brazil and India. They are also integrated into general international networks and organizations, e.g. the International League of Peoples’ Struggles, which work towards revolutionary transformation across the globe. At home, they continue to raise the consciousness of the people to international human rights issues. Recently NUPL and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines organized a rally in Manila in support of the judges and lawyers in Pakistan, and against the imposition of Emergency rule there.

Indeed, relations between progressive lawyers and the Bar had not been overlooked by the people’s lawyers. The latter have had generally supportive relations with the Bar leadership, and upon occasion have had very good response to requests for solidarity e.g. in the resolution passed by the Bar in 2006 regarding attacks on lawyers and calling on the President to investigate and take effective action. This resolution was provided to the IBP at it annual conference by Attorney Colmenares who was representing the recently formed Committee Against Attacks on Lawyers (CODAL). Although this was a new organization, the resolution was adopted unanimously. (The IBP was established in 1973, not long after Martial law was declared. It became obligatory to belong to the Bar. Presumably this was a measure pushed by Marcos and allies to provide better control over the profession, all in the interest of more efficiency through a quasi-corporatist re-organization of civil society.)

In early 2007 the name of CODAL was changed to reflect a wider approach. Previously it had been largely an advocacy group, with some organizing work amongst lawyers, while individual law firms and Legal Centers did human rights litigation. Now named Council for the Defence of Liberties, it began to provide legal services as well. The impetus for the change came in February 2007 with the declaration of a State of Emergency by President Arroyo.

I will briefly mention other organizations which have contributed to the building of the tradition in which the elements came together to form the model. First, there were a number of government legal aid initiatives in the pre-Marcos period, though as with legal aid generally they were incapable of dealing with the problems of the poor on a comprehensive basis. These were supplemented by private organizations, one being CLASP. Of course these were not people’s institutions with a broad political program. Not surprisingly perhaps there was a Civil Liberties Union of the Philippines, modeled on the American organization. It disappeared during Martial Law, but was for a time at least brought back to life by an academic Dean and others. I have not determined how much legal support there was for the sectoral organizations in this period, nor how it was organized. From a lack of information contra in my early research, I can only tentatively suggest that it was mainly ad hoc and done on an individual basis by lawyer Samaritans or early, still unorganized progressive, even incipient people’s lawyers.

During the Marcos period, and particularly after the imposition of Martial Law, there was an explosion of resistance organizations, such as the National Alliance for Freedom, Justice and Democracy, in which lawyers played an important part. One of the early organizations concerned about the fate of political detainees was the Task Force Detainees, which was founded in 1974 by the Association of Major Religious Superiors. These and other organizations provided support for legal services on a case by case basis, “But there was obviously a need to organize the lawyers’ capacities and to present a united legal opposition and to give human rights lawyering a national face. Lawyers and others approached then Senator Jose Diokno, perhaps the foremost lawyer at the time…He accepted the responsibility to take a leading role in bringing together a coherent “legal front.” It was out of this initiative that the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) was established.” Diokno was also president of the long standing Civil Liberties Union.

Another organization which emerged to maintain the legal struggle was MABINI, named after the great constitutional lawyer, philosopher and revolutionary Apolinario Mabini. It was the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Independence and Nationalism. It was formed because of the concern with the narrow view which Diokno had of the legal struggle. He accepted that criticism of Marcos was valid in the court, but was not happy with taking the criticism into the streets. Those who disagreed split and formed MABINI, and engaged in a broad advocacy role, joining with various social and political movements in street campaigns e.g. against US bases. Protestant lawyers, many associated with the National Council of Churches, formed the Protestant Lawyers League of the Philippines.

Another group, formed by a former Solicitor-general, was BONIFACIO, Brotherhood of Nationalistic, Independent, Free Attorneys to Combat Justice and Oppression. Bonifacio was one of the great leaders of the Philippine Revolution, organizing with a few others the secret society KATIPUNAN and waging war against the Spaniards. According to Colmenares “All of these organizations of lawyers worked together and were very much alike, though as we have seen there were some tactical differences. They coined very clever names for their organizartions, but basically they were fighting for human rights. At that time, under Martial law, the name could not be too openly seen as being against Marcos. Thus an innocuous name like Free Legal Assistance Group was acceptable, and probably necessary under the conditions of Martial Law, effectively a brutal dictatorship.” Another well-named group was LIBERTAS, which seems to have had the backing of the Liberal party. Other organizations such as COLUMN, MAKATAO, BICOLANDIA and SOMORY, arose in regional areas. In New York, Attorney Capulong and others worked with an organization, Lawyers for Human Rights in the Philippines, which was an early “internationalist” initiative of progressive lawyers. They continue to see the international dimension as important to their work.

After the Aquino government was established in 1986, there was hope that the repression of the Marcos period was left behind. Many of the lawyers who opposed Marcos now supported Aquino, some from government positions, others in the Congress. Unfortunately, human rights abuses continued at a high level. This has been referred to as an ambiguous period, one in which democratic pretensions were often betrayed on the ground (being from a wealthy land-owning family, one of the first betrayals by Aquino was the failure to follow through on promised land reform; the rotten core of Philippine life – the feudal stranglehold on the rural land and masses – was left to fester.) Soon, sectoral organizations began to form their own lawyer organizations. Thus the May First Movement (KMU) the worker’s national union, which already had labor lawyers began to organize them into a “law front.” Others followed suit, with SENTRA the peasants’ legal resource center being one of the early ones. PLACE, the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance center is another. Finally, the emergence of University legal assistance and research centers has been a strong new development in the past decade.

I have tried to indicate the kind of institutions which have arisen and how they operate. It is clear that the model has a number of institutional sites, organizational forms, network affiliations which over time, in something like Gramsci’s “war of movement”, have emerged and developed according to need and required function. Thus to defend political prisoners FLAG was created in 1974. This I believe was the first organized lawyers group committed to resisting the injustice of the Philippine state. Since that time a number of organizations have emerged, many over-lapping in membership and ideology, others quite independent, but most operating within a large network of organizations and social movements, regional, national and international. Some of these lawyer organizations were more progressive than others, and some of them were short-lived, some because of the need to widen their scope and thus changed their name (such as CODAL which exists under its changed name), others probably because they felt their primary task had been achieved or that they could merge with another group.


What impressed me about progressive lawyers in the Philippines is, first, their courage. Many lawyers, including judges, have been assassinated by forces of, or allied with, the state. Many others have been disappeared, tortured and /or harassed in a variety of ways. These facts give a very special meaning to people’s lawyering in the Philippines which is probably difficult for lawyers in most other countries to fully appreciate. Second, in the face of what I have just described, the obvious calm, thoughtful commitment of Filipino lawyers to the task of progressive lawyering is inspiring. The third element which is important to emphasize is the widespread extent of people’s lawyering. In the Philippines people’s lawyers are active across urban and rural areas, across various sectors of civil society such as industrial workers, peasants, fisher folk; they are engaged with issues such as the many environmental problems of mining and logging which have led to degradation of life in rural areas especially e.g. loss of drinking water, loss of life through mud-slides and flooding. Fourth, and very important, is the extent to which these lawyers are integrated into civil society organizations and see their work as part of their struggle. Fifth, the flexibility and innovative capacity shown by the lawyers there is admirable. Finally, and most important, the political understanding of many Filipino lawyers, in particular their commitment to a radical transformation of the structures and culture of Philippine society and state, infuses their approach to lawyering for the people and is, I must say, exciting intellectually and politically.

Power to the Filipino people’s lawyers!



People’s lawyers
work in a non-traditional ‘collective” or participatory law site, independently funded, where law work tends to be strictly limited to significant public issues i.e. “structural” not “walk-in” clientele. (The latter are assisted in obtaining effective legal/other assistance through close links with providers.) Much of their work is pro-active. Law work is interpreted broadly i.e. includes advocacy in a broad, social or community sense; litigation of every kind; education, importantly for clients, but also community; research; publications; international responsibilities, linkages are seen as important. Non-lawyers work closely in the general performance of their work. Non-lawyer organizations, especially progressive ones, work in close collaboration in their work. In turn, many of their cases/clients/issues come through those organizations.
Have a high political consciousness, are committed to revolutionary re-structure
of society. Are integrated in their broad advocacy work with other
organizations/movements struggling for political goals.

Resistance lawyers are similar to People’s lawyers in their political consciousness and commitment. The major distinction is their lawyering site. They work in or for sectoral organizations, thus are not usually independently funded, and probably do not have as high a level of “collectivity” in what may be a more traditional form of organizing legal work. The understanding of legal work may be more narrowly focused. The primary work may be more defensive or re-active. In the case e.g. of trade unions, there may be a focus on opposition to sectoral repression and exploitation by employers; but this is not to deny there may be a need to oppose forces of the state, and to be pro-active in seeking reforms in labor regulation, etc.

Radical lawyers would be found in a more traditional setting, a law firm or perhaps an academic site. They might, conceivably, work in the public sector where they operate on behalf of the poor, abused, etc. – in such posts as are available e.g. in the Public Defender’s office, the Ombudsman’s office, the Commission for Human Rights. Thus they are not independently funded.

They may not be as involved in public, organized political activity; their political commitments, and political consciousness, may not be so high as the first two categories. They have a strong commitment to a continuing critique of the systemic injustices – as well as the arbitrary misuse of power. Thus they are often involved with individual – or a class of – clients who seek to challenge official or corporate power. They often work alone or in small firms. It might be that they combine legal work with academic work, blending the two. They might also ally with lawyers in one of the first two categories. If we could use a military metaphor, these are like outlying snipers who harass the state and its corporate allies.


Samaritan lawyers
these are the ordinary decent, even traditional, lawyers who work in all communities – often in small firms or as individuals, without a great deal of financial reward – and who are constantly called upon to provide assistance to neighbors, friends and relatives who have come up against the state or capital, suffering some kind of injury or abuse. They see it as their duty to aid those in need. They may consider themselves as apolitical, even main-stream. But by their kindness, generosity or sense of duty, they not only provide legal assistance, but they help to maintain the capacity of the working class to act positively against repression and exploitation in the future. (There are many issues here arising out of this description of their positive role and categorization as “Progressive”, but that is a subject for discussion).


Cause lawyers*
may or may not be progressive. The cause lawyer can be very similar to my first two categories in the work done and the mode of working. The site of lawyering classically is a non-traditional firm, often a community law center. The centers are normally funded by the state or a Foundation, so cannot be considered entirely independent of funding. The style of working may be “collective” and participatory, but may also be traditional. The cause may be progressive – re the environment, illegal mining or logging – or it might be conservative – re mining or other issue which is a conflict between people and profits. While cause lawyers may have a broad understanding of law work, they can have a narrow focus on the courts and the black-letter law.

Again, they may or may not have a developed political consciousness, or commitment. But it would be unlikely that they would be integrated into a broad political movement, and would not be likely to seek revolutionary re-structure of society.

Law reform lawyers seek to use their understanding of law-in-action in order to make it work better (more effectively, more efficiently, more justly). In a sense, we might think of them as the modern “legal realists” (the reforming branch). They may be academics, practicing traditional lawyers, or both; they may work in state agencies (Law Reform Commissions, or even in a service/policy department where as part of their job – or on their own initiative – they generate law reform proposals). It is not usually their role to produce reform, but they do so because they see it as socially – or otherwise – useful. They are not integrated with other non-legal organizations on a regular basis, but may work with some others toward achieving their chosen reform.

They are not normally involved with political activity and may not have a developed political consciousness. They would not be concerned with systemic reform.
* The term has been developed by the Americans, in particular Sarat and Scheingold, and there is a considerable literature on these lawyers, some of which I have referred to in FN 9. I am using my own conceptualization though it relies to some extent on theirs. The comments about the political consciousness and commitment to a revolutionary vision are aspects not specifically developed in their work, but there are some discussions by others which add that dimension.



The following remarks were extracted from papers presented by Attorney Romeo Capulong, Director of the Public Interest Law Center, Manila. He is today the leading authority in the Philippines on people’s lawyering or, as he sees it in wider terms, public interest lawyering. From his long experience in the law going back to the 1950s, he offers us the authentic, reality based observations of the lawyer committed to the struggle for social and legal justice. (Headings and editing by Gill H Boehringer.)


“We all know that we live and suffer in a stratified society and under a government that is dominated by a tiny elite. This tiny elite has a monopoly of political power and economic resources which they use and often abuse to tilt the scales of justice in their favor. We have a long history of anti-colonial and neo colonial struggle against foreign domination, particularly against the United States, transnational corporations and multi-lateral institutions whose means and machinery of control are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and effective….An overwhelming majority of our people continue to be disenfranchised and victimized by human rights abuses, oppression and exploitation. Our elections are a farce in which the people are given the illusion that they are participating in a meaningful process. In reality, they are not being offered real choices in terms of adopting a pro-poor and pro-Filipino program of government and choosing leaders who will represent their genuine interests. Our electorate are being deceived, taught and induced to sell their votes, cheated, intimidated or sometimes killed. We have been electing to office different factions of the Filipino elite alternating in a vicious cycle of self-interest, mutual accommodation… The result is a government that is perennially unable to provide the most basic needs of the poor in health care, education, shelter and livelihood… (T)he bench and the bar as well as policy-makers should have as their guiding and over-riding principle the foregoing social context in the following cases and conflicts involving the poor:

1. The peasants in their struggle for genuine land reform and their legal battle against land-grabbing and eviction in the name of so-called development by land-grabbers masquerading as property developers;

2. The workers in their struggle for decent wages and working conditions and in their struggle to organize trade unions and associations that empower them and represent their genuine interests;

3. The urban poor and informal settlers, oftentimes disparagingly called “squatters”, in the defense of their right against summary eviction and for adequate relocation site, housing and livelihood;

4. The migrant workers in the defense of their human rights under national and international law in the host country and in their struggle against the apathy and callousness of their own government to their problems a s migrant workers and to the problems that beset their families in the homeland;

5. The small fisher folk in their struggle to defend their fishing grounds against the intrusions of local and foreign fishing magnates;

6. The indigenous people in the defense of their ancestral domain against land-grabbers and local and foreign mining companies;

7. Political victims of violations of human, civil and political rights such as extra-judicial killings, involuntary disappearances, torture, illegal arrests and arbitrary detention committed by the state through its police, military and paramilitary forces;

8. The public in general on legal issues like environmental protection and consumer rights….

I believe there are two ways of addressing the multi-level barriers that impede the poor’s access to justice. One is to consider simple measures and remedies that are doable in the short term…The other way of addressing these barriers is to examine scientifically their roots and be part of the wider national struggle to dismantle these roots that afflict not only the justice system but more importantly, the whole Philippine society”….our problems in the judiciary, in the legislature, in the executive branch, in the rest of our institutions and processes are inextricably intertwined and will defy lasting solutions unless we dismantle the prevailing unjust social and economic order and establish a truly free, democratic and sovereign nation.”

From “Access of the Poor to justice in an Elite-Dominated Constitutional government and Society”

Paper delivered to the Law and Social Justice Conference, U. of P, Diliman, Manila, August 28, 2008.


“To my mind there are six basic principles that distinguish and provide guidance to a lawyer in the handling of a public interest case:

1. The issue fundamentally affects the lives of a large number of people, usually a sector or our society or even the whole society itself.

2. The issue arose out of a conflict or rights or interests and exploitation and oppression of the numerous poor by the tiny privileged sector and /or government policy or program.

3. Unlike the traditional practitioner, the public interest lawyer views and handles the legal issue and the case in the larger context of the nature and problems of our society.

4. Having accepted the professional responsibility to handle the public interest case, the lawyer initiates and assists in a process whereby the public interest issue and the legal battle are utilized for organizing, and raising the social awareness, unity and militancy of the clients and those people who support the cause of the clients.

5. The legal battle is not confined to the courtroom. The public interest lawyer uses what the great lawyer, the late José W. Diokno called meta-legal tactics, mobilizing and utilizing the client’s strength, unity and militancy, bringing the issues to the public, and rallying support for the clients’ cause.

6. In the handling of the case, the public interest lawyer interacts with his clients in a mutually beneficial way whereby he or she learns and deepens his or her commitment to the clients’ struggle for the empowerment and betterment of their lives. The relationship is broadened from a mere professional one to a unity of understanding of the problems of Philippine society and common goals for fundamental reforms.”


The people’s lawyer has or must have a very high degree of personal integrity and commitment to contribute his or her share to the struggle of the poor clients for social justice and meaningful reform. She/he gives premium to these principles and causes over and above personal and material agenda.

Unlike the traditional practitioner, who merely pleads the client’s cause in an adversarial proceeding, usually with the cold neutrality of a skilled legal technician, the people’s lawyer has a high degree of dedication to the legal as well as the social cause of the client, pleading such cause in and outside the legal for a, in dialogues, in networking, in the streets, in the media and in conferences like this, the gathering of distinguished leaders of the bar.”

From “Lawyering for the Poor – a social Responsibility of the Integrated bar of the Philippines (IBP),

Paper delivered to the 7th national Convention of the Integrated bar of the Philippines, Davao City,
April 21-5, 1999.


“(A)llow me to differentiate legal aid for indigents or traditional legal aid from lawyering for the oppressed and exploited sectors of our society or…non-traditional legal aid. Legal aid for indigents derives its mandate fro the state pursuant to Article III, Section 11 of the Constitution which provides, “Free access to the courts and quasi-judicial bodies and adequate legal assistance shall not be denied to any person by reason of poverty.” Lawyering for the oppressed and exploited poor derives its mandate from the struggles and aspirations of the client-beneficiaries for a just, democratic and humane society and particularly in the promotion and defense of their sectoral rights. As lawyers we know that government programs and private initiatives have focused their activities and resources on traditional legal aid or legal aid for indigents….{there follows a listing of the public and private institutions offering such legal aid – GB} And while I agree that we should continue to promote and support traditional or legal aid for indigents, the more pressing need and the real challenge to us, the progressive Filipino lawyers, as well as people’s organizations and our allies and solidarity friends and client-beneficiaries of our services is to expand our ranks, develop lawyering for the exploited and oppressed poor as a viable field specialty in law practice just like corporate lawyering, criminal defense, civil law practice or any other field of specialty.

Perhaps it is necessary for me to reiterate in this gathering what I mean exactly by lawyering for the exploited and oppressed poor, who also include individuals and organizations genuinely representing the interest and working for such poor, including organizers, social activists, mass leaders, human rights workers and, of course, the revolutionaries.

Let me just say that giving aid to the needy whether in the form of food, clothing, shelter or medicines or free legal services to the victims of an unjust system may provide temporary relief to the poor. But in the long term such kind of aid, given without a complementary program to raise the social awareness of the beneficiaries about the unjust system prevailing in our country today, diminishes rather than help the poor. It contributes to the perpetuation of the system, which breeds poverty and injustices.”

From “Let Us Continue to Develop Lawyering for the Poor as a Viable Field of Law Practice”

Paper presented to the First Mindanao Assembly of People’s Lawyers, Davao City, 2005.

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