When I received the U.S. Ambassador - H. E. Philip S. Goldberg’s invitation to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), I was wowed beyond belief. The hope to one day visit America was on my bucket list. But to have been given this rare opportunity to explore the different states on an all-expense paid official trip was truly a blessing.
Our group was an all-Filipino team from an eclectic background, one is a Human Rights Regional Director, another is journalist, two military officers and a social worker from a non-governmental/religious organization.
For the three-week program, we left the Philippines last September 13, 2014.
Our first stop was Washington, D.C.
We were given a tour of the U.S. Capital. We went to the different landmarks and memorials, historic and cultural sights, the White House, The Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol Building. I was awed by their grandeur and was inspired by the Americans’ strong sense of nationalism.
Our D.C stay included meetings with the following on the themes U.S. System of Government and Human Rights as Part of U.S. Foreign Policy:
Ms.Hadar Harris of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, American University Washington College of Law
1. Dr. Matthew Green – Professor of Politics, Catholic University of America
2. Ms. Sarah Bryer – Executive Director, National Juvenile Justice Network at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice
3. Fellow from Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, U.S. House of Representatives
4. Representatives from the National Defense University
5. Representatives from the U.S. Department of State
6. Mr.Vasu Mohan, Director for Europe ans Asia Team, International Foundation for Electoral Sysytems (IFES)
My first impression of America through my D.C. visit was glowing. The streets are clean, there are plenty of trees and flowers, gardens are well-maintained and people are very courteous and disciplined.
Second Stop: New York
For the themes International Watchdogs and the Role of Media, we went to New York and had meetings with the following:
1. Mr. Joseph Saunders – Deputy Program Director, Human Rights Watch
2. Sarah Kerr &ArrulPrakkash – Program Assistant & Program Manager – Witness
3. Sheila S. Coronel – Dean of Academic Affairs/Director, Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, Columbia Journalism School, Columbia University
New York was truly a cosmopolitan city. It was always bustling with activities. We had an occasion to watch a Broadway show “Chicago” for our cultural activity. The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Times Square area, the Rockefeller Center, the Wall Street area, the New York Stock Exchange and the skyscrapers of Manhattan were sights to behold. Our New York experience was fast-paced in keeping with the city’s reputation-the city which never sleeps.
Third Stop: Florida
After New York, we flew to Jacksonville, Florida. For the themes Community Advocacy of Human Rights and Freedom to Privacy, we had meetings with:
1. City of Jacksonville ‘s Human Rights Commission (JRHC)
2. Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI)
3. Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA)
4. Florida Costal School of Law – Human Rights Law Society (HRLA)
The Florida leg of IVLP was also interesting for me. Community engagements were strong. JRHC had an Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Division which “investigates complaints of alleged discriminatory or unfair practices in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.” The JCCI publishes a *Race Relations Progress Report which contained data gathered from the citizens. This report is used to gauge progress and check the community’s accountability for eradicating “racial disparities.” Amazingly, it also publishes *Quality of Life Progress Report in which the community measures progress through the recommended indicators.
Another noteworthy organization is the JALA. It is a legal aid office which is also state-funded. It has top-caliber lawyers representing the indigents. It is an organization which also participates in influencing human rights policy at the local and state levels. I personally felt we need something like this in the country. The organization is composed of brilliant lawyers working for the marginalized sector. This meeting inspired me to influence our school-based legal clinic to make its presence felt, to make meaningful contributions to the community.
At the Florida Coastal School of Law, we were made instant resource persons on the issues of trafficking, immigration and human rights in general. It was a fruitful exchange for us and for the law students and professors present.
Another experience was home hospitality. It was a cultural experience in the home of an American.
Fourth Stop: Ohio
Our themes here wereJudiciary and Law Enforcement and Human Rights. We met with the following:
1. Ohio Innocence Project – Bryan Howe – University of Cincinnati College of Law
2. First District Court of Appeals – Hamilton County
-Judge Sylvia Sieve Hendon
-Judge Patrick T. Dinkelacker
3. Cincinnati Police Department
4. Ms. Victoria Straughn – local activist working to solve police-community tensions, racial profiling and other important issues
5. Representative from Hamilton County-Corrections Division
6. Citizens Complaint Authority
`Our Ohio meetings were likewise enriching. I was amazed by the work of the school-based Ohio Innocence Project (OIP). To date, OIP had freed more than 250 wrongfully convicted inmates, most of them facing capital punishment, determined to be innocent primarily through DNA testing and other verifiable evidence. The successes of OIP proved that law students and law schools can do great things for their communities.
Meeting the Judges (Court of Appeals Justices) gave me another perspective. Judges in the U.S courts., except for Federal Court (U.S. Supreme Court who are appointed by the Congress for life) are elected for a term of six (6) years with no term limitation. Asked if they’re okay with raising election funds and campaign for election themselves, they said they trust the system and that the same works for them. Accordingly, judges have to perform beyond reproach; they have to maintain their integrity and independence because accountability is periodically evaluated by the people during elections.
The Cincinnati Police Department is another surprise. The *Collaborative Agreement on the “community problem-oriented policing” forged between the citizens and socio-civic groups; and the local government unit and the law enforcement with the aid of the court is an accomplishment which they should be very proud of. Making the law enforcers proactive partners in community problem solving is truly an innovative way of humanizing the police force. The provision for a Civilian Review and the establishment of a Citizen Complaint Authority, the focus on youth to prevent and reduce crimes, and other detailed processes and mechanisms in this Agreement can serve as a model for others, even for our own law enforcement to adopt and modify. It is undertaken that a copy of this Collaborative Agreement shall be sent to the proper law enforcement offices for their reference.
The tour to the Hamilton County Corrections Division was another learning experience. The jail facility is located just across the couthouse. There is a pathway which connects them directly so the high risk of transporting prisoners to attend court hearings is eliminated. The process of booking is very thorough and the facility is equipped with modern technology to secure the premises. DNA testing is also an ordinary procedure for ceratain crimes. The Correction Division accordingly offers a variety of programs from medical, dental, psychiatric, religious to an Adult Education Program.
What impressed me the most was the fact the courts have an office in the jailhouse manned by their personnel to interview new detainees for profiling and in-take purposes. The data will be used by the court in the bail hearing and other court processes in the hearing within the day or the following day at the latest. The courts have regular schedule for these types of hearing.
A tour of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center deepened one’s understanding of slavery’s abominable history and the modern-day slavery; and the appreciation of the freedoms we are enjoying today.
Fifth Stop: North Dakota
The weather was cold in this place but we will always remember the warmest welcome from the Filipino-American community we have there.
For the Themes Countering Trafficking in Persons and Domestice Violence, we had the following meetings:
1. Ward County Sheriff’s Department & Minot Police Department
2. Kelly Dillon of the State Attorney’s Office
3. Judge Richard Hagar of the North Central Judicial District
4. Judge Stacy Louser – initial appearance hearings
5. Domestic Violence Crisis Center
6. Visit to Fort Berthold – Indian Reservation
7. Paula Bosh – Federal Bureau of Investigation
8. Vonnie Jo Alberts (Rabbit Woman) –MHA Nation Tribal Council candidate
Witnessing a hearing utilizing a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in a jail to the court was a wonder for me. Wheels of justice are turning fast as at this initial stage, the accused could already utilize this hearing to enter a plea for misdemeanor cases. For felonies, accused are apprised of the charges against them as well as their rights. Right there and then, we witnessed cases which had been terminated at that first hearing.
I also witnessed another unique feature of their Violence Against Women Act (VAWA –VAWC in the Philippine Law). Women can be charged under this Act, unlike in our country where only women could avail of the remedies under this Act. I personally think expanding the coverage of our own VAWC law to include battered men (both physically and psychologically) is more in keeping with equality among persons as violence generally, can be committed to anyone, and not just on women and their children.
Apple-picking was the BEST cultural activity I had. Touching an apple from the fruit tree and picking it was a life experience I will always treasure. Our North Dakota experience was really happy and inspiring.
Sixth Stop: Arizona
Our last leg carried the themes International Activism Supporting Human Rights and Services for Immigrants and Refugees. Our meetings were with the following:
1. World Hunger Education, Advocay and Training (WHEAT)
2. Lourdes Lee Vasquez and Bryan Vazquez – filmmakers of the documentary The immigration Paradox
3. Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc. (CPLC)
4. Homeward Bound
5. Darfur and Beyond
Meeting the people behind these great organizations made me emotional. They can choose to look the other way and let those unfortunate people be. But to take the cudgels for these faceless people and rally support from their government and communities made me proud I had the chance of learning from them. I always admire people who do great things for small people and these organizations do these and more.
This is supposed to be a dessert, but trees and flowers abound as citizens and the government were making conscious effort to plant trees and take care of nature. The weather here is warm, aptly matched by the warmth of its people, tirelessly helping other people all over the world.
Seventh Stop: California
My final stop, a personal trip, was California to meet some college friends and family. There were many Filipinos excelling in their fields and enjoying the blessings of living in a first world country.The cultural and recreational activities I had here made me hope we could have them too in this country.
I had an enriching and amazing journey. I saw how courteous and disciplined people are. Even the Filipinos there strictly obey the traffic rules as the full weight of the law will fall hard on the violators. I experienced disposing of my eating utensils as most fastfood are self-service. I admire the trust and accountability the people exact from their government.
I fell in love with America. More than the apples, I discovered and experienced the hearts of its people. It is not perfect. But I chose to be inspired by the positivity I saw. I love the sense of patriotism where even gasoline stations and car parks have big flag poles proudly carrying the American flag. I love the memorials where great people and events were immortalized. I love the technology, the buildings and architecture, the freedom the people enjoy, the state of the art museums and the learning institutions, the list is endless. But more than all of these, I love America because it has given me renewed hope. Its people inspired me more- to do more for my country and people. My U.S. journey may have ended here, but mydreams for my country have just begun. And for this spark of hope, for the apples and hearts and the continuing work for justice - I am forever grateful…
*All documents mentioned are available from the author upon request
Copyright (c) 2013 ACCESS TO JUSTICE ADVOCATES (AJA). All rights reserved.
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Liceo Legal Aid Center (LiLAC) doing business under the name and style of Center for Alternative Lawyering of Liceo is the legal aid center of Liceo de Cagayan University, a privately owned university based in Cagayan de oro City. The group is composed of law students, alumni of the College of Law of the University, and lawyers who are passionate in the practice of alternative lawyering. LiLAC is guided by its vision of a holistic formation of law students committed to the transformation of society by promoting justice, empowerment, unity and peace, through helping the marginalized sector of the depressed areas here in Mindanao, in the Philippines and in the world. While the group was registered only this year with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it has been providing services to marginalized communities in partnership with NGOs for more than 8 years now. LiLAC has more than 50 members, 15 of whom are taking the active role of running the group’s activities.
The Mindanao State University Legal Aid Clinic or Mindanao SULAC for brevity, is the Legal Aid Clinic of Mindanao State University College of law. It is the first and currently the only one of its kind to be established in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It strives to cater the legal needs of the underprivileged and/or indigent clients of the Region and to help promote the proper administration of justice as a key to lasting peace in the region and in the country as a whole.
Office Address: 1F MSU College of Law Bldg.,
MSU Main Campus, Marawi City 9700 Philippines
Mobile No.: (+63) 907 336 7762
The Notre Dame university is a Catholic Institution in Cotabato City run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and member of the Notre Dame Educational Association Philippines.The Notre Dame University Legal Aid Center started sometime in 2009. Its members are the officially enrolled students of NDU-College of Law.
The following are the official pages and e-mail address of the group:
The Palawan Cradle of Rights is a unified composition of law students from Palawan State university school of Law, established last August 26, 2013 after the culminating activity of the Basic Orientation Seminar by the US Embassy in partnership with the MYVC.
Through our linkages and with the help of the different Government and Non-government organizations we aim to provide free access to people who need legal assistance.
The University of Mindanao Legal Aid Network (ULAN) is a non-stock, non-profit, and service institution of the University of Mindanao. As a service institution, it provides legal assistance, advocates human rights and social justice, and facilitates the formation of law students for alternative lawyering. It consists of law students and alumni of the College of Legal Education of the University of Mindanao committed to provide an adequate and greater access to justice of the community through its programs.
The CENTRO ADVOCACIA LEGAL is organized exclusively for charitable, socio-cultural and educational purposes, more specifically to serve the needs of the marginalized communities specifically children and youth and the minorities in Zamboanga City through Legal Aid Assistance and Human Rights Based Advocacies.