Bridges of Peace: Delivering Legal Aid and Paralegal Services in Caraga

Seven Volunteer Lawyers and 20 Law Students of the Father Saturnino Urios University (FSUU) support the strengthening of barangay-based institutions to address conflicts on land and natural resources. FSUU is promoting this approach Caraga-wide and on policy changes at the national level. 12 pilot barangays in conflict affected areas ensure proper monitoring of the local mediation board’s (Katarungang Pambarangay) legal and paralegal aid services.


“ULAP is a conflict sensitive and conflict transformative legal assistance program that goes beyond in order to create new realities”.

Dean Josefe Sorerra-Ty
Father Saturnino Urios University
Butuan City


Responding to the Needs on the Ground

Access to effective legal aid must be available for everyone including marginalized population, upland farmers, Indigenous Peoples (IPs), women and young men. To ensure holistic peace building efforts in conflict-affected areas in Caraga Region, there is a need to assess the effective functionality and delivery of legal aid and paralegal services of the Katarungang Pambarangays, Translated as “Barangay Justice System” (KPs), justice system at the barangay level.

The assessment should answer the following: Is access to legal aid and paralegal meaningfully ensured by the KPs?  Who avails of these services?  Do KPs meaningfully contribute to the resolution of small-scale disputes or are they aggravating existing conflicts? What are the practical bases for the assessment of the KPs functionality?

Similarly, the communities of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) have their traditional processes to resolve conflicts, such as boundary disputes between and among ancestral domains, Caraga Region is settlement to IPs co-existing with non-IPs, the question arises whether the indigenous knowledge, systems and practices in resolving conflicts are considered in the legal aid system or paralegal services?

In 2013, the Conflict Sensitive and Resource Asset Management (COSERAM) Program supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) developed a Legal Aid Strategy Paper identifying ways forward for communities, including the Indigenous Peoples, to improve their access to legal aid and paralegal services through the barangay-based institutions particularly the KPs. The document identified entry points for the implementation of programs in providing transformative legal aid and paralegal services that acknowledge creative alternative resolution mechanisms and processes, including the knowledge, systems and practices of the IPs.

Initiating Change 

The Urian Legal Assistance Program (ULAP), a newly-instituted program of the Father Saturnino Urios University – College of Law (FSUU-College of Law), envisions to implement legal aid services to IPs. The COSERAM Program is assisting the ULAP in the capacity – building of its paralegal and legal volunteers.

GIZ’s commitment in supporting capacity-building measures for ULAP volunteers is foreseen as the start in cascading further, capacity-building activities to barangay-based institutions (Lupons, the Barangay Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils, Barangay Human Rights Action Office, Barangay Council for the Protection, Barangay Agrarian reform Committee, Barangay Peace and Order Council and other institutions) so that they may effectively carry out their mandates of resolving disputes at the barangay level and integrate the indigenous practices of the IPs in resolving conflicts.

The need to interface the mainstream legal system and indigenous processes of conflict resolution necessitates that capacities are available for the Indigenous political structures. ULAP considers this as paramount in effectively providing culturally sensitive legal and paralegal services to everyone in the region. 

Tools for monitoring cases of the KPs are utilized in determining the effectivity of delivering quality service, arriving at resolutions and conciliations.  Monitoring cases would also aim at documenting issues that are prevalent in barangays and serve as information for consideration in integrating conflict and culture sensitivity in legal aid services.

Reflecting on Lessons Learned 

@ GIZ / Jesus Villardo III

The ULAP affords a convergent effort for various groups and individuals – government agencies, civil society organizations, the Integrated Bar (lawyer group), law students, and communities in the region – for conflict transformation to be realized.  It is designed to facilitate opportunities for various national line agencies (such as the Department of Interior and Local Government, Commission on Human Rights, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples), partner local government units, and civil society groups (Integrated Bar of the Philippines, academic institutions, or media).

By enhancing the capacities of these institutions as well as those of the Indigenous Peoples, conflicts are transformed, relationships are reinforced, and a mechanism for peace is established.

Through volunteerism, the program aims to tap human resources to become agents of peace and act as facilitators in bringing about conflict transformative justice via access to effective legal and paralegal aid and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

Improving access to legal aid and paralegal assistance services for the marginalized population is only a small aspect of the holistic peace building efforts in a conflict-laden region such as Caraga.  Although strengthening the barangay-based institutions by itself is a gargantuan task, nonetheless it is in the right direction.  Reinforcing the KPs functionality is part and parcel of these meaningful endeavors for the marginalized population. 

“Nalipay ako kay aduna nay programa nga ULAP, ug ang mga abogado niini, nga magtabang sa mga Lumad. Mao ni nga hisgutanan nga amo lang gilabay-labayan sa niaging panahon. Ang ULAP usa ka programa nga naghiusa sa customary law sa mga Lumad ug state law (sa nasud) sa ilang pagtubag sa mga hisgutanan sa comunidad”.

“I am happy that we have the ULAP now, and their lawyers, working with the IPs. This is exactly the concern that we have taken for granted for some time now. ULAP combines the usage of customary laws of IPs and the state law (of the country) to respond to the issues of the communities”.

Datu Makalipay (Ireneo Perez Rico)
Agusanon Manobo, Esperanza, Agusan del Sur

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