US –AIR Mindanao: Now Flying High for Mother Earth

Posted on 2015/09/04

The Alumni for Institutional Reform (US-AIR) Program aims to bring together alumni of the United States Department of State –sponsored exchange programs and emerging leaders to discuss, strategize, and design a social reform agenda in environment (Mindanao) and good governance and political transparency (Luzon) to be implemented in the community for a period of one year.

The first phase is a one (1) day Forum/Workshop in two locations, Mindanao and Luzon. While the second phase will consist of a Project Summit in the same two (2) locations six months after the implementation of the social reform initiatives for the presentation of best practices and challenges and a venue to revisit the original social reform agenda, evaluate them and implement possible changes in approaches where needed.

The Mindanao leg with the theme “Institutionalizing Reforms to Address Environmental Concerns in Mindanao” took off on July 24 at Pearlmont Hotel in Cagayan de Oro City. This writer, together with the Liceo Legal Aid Center (LiLAC) of Liceo de Cagayan University of Cagayan de Oro, implemented the program. To manifest its full support, the US Embassy Manila sent a team led by Mr. Ryan Bradeen, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer, who gave an inspiring message.

An American Environmental lawyer Prof. James R. May of Global Environmental & Natural Resource Law Institute, Widener University, Delaware Law School, who was sent by the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP) through the US Embassy in Manila to assist LiLAC, lectured on Global Environmental Governance. He stressed the common aspects of environmental problems. These include over overpopulation which means that there are too many people using available resources to meet demands and wants. Another problem is resource depletion and habitat destruction. Continuous land conversion has caused numerous soil erosion, deforestation, and fragmentation of forest ecosystem. This drastic change in the environment and high demand for various resources has resulted to, among others, decrease of fish population and fast decline of available freshwater sources. Pollution is another common environmental issue. Extreme human practices i.e. war, has caused the contamination of every aspect of this planet.

He further discussed that generally, the goal is to provide humans with a better life without depleting resources that will harm future generations. This is sustainable development and as such, sustainable governance solutions require that the concerns of sociologists, economists and ecologists intersect. To attain sustainable solutions, the approach used must be socially desirable, economically feasible, and ecologically viable.

Finally, to help eradicate environmental concerns, Prof. May suggested some public interest opportunities which are the following: Create Environmental Governance Culture; Enable Environmental Enforcement; Promote Tolerance Toward Judicial Reform; Provide Feedback Mechanisms & continue Conversation & Collaboration.

Atty. Normita V. Batula, Executive -Director, BALAOD Mindanaw, Inc. presented the Mindanao and the State of Philippine Environment situationer. In her discussion, she enumerated policy issues and challenges. These include:
• Overlapping Rights and Resource Utilization Instruments (Protected Areas vs. Mining vs. Agrarian Reform vs. Ancestral Domain vs. Private Agricultural Lands)
• Vested rights expanded to include not only titles but also Resource Utilization Instruments (Sec. 10 of JAO 1 2012)
• National government’s blatant disrespect of the autonomy of the Local Government Unit (General Supervision of National Government vs. Autonomy of Local Governments)
• Many stakeholders with diverse interests
• Ecosystems with different ecological services/functions
• Access to Clean Water, Clean Air and Uncontaminated Crops by community folks is being threatened
• Widespread displacement not only of humans but also of flora and fauna
• Landlessness is still prevalent
• IPs and their Ancestral Domain are constantly threatened by the capitalist interest
• Natural Resources are being sold without giving due regard to Environmental protection
• Extraction is given much priority than Preservation
• Displacement of Farmers and Fisherfolks due to effects from mining operation
• We have numerous environmental laws but these laws have not prevented the continuing degradation of our natural resources…..and the overall degradation of the state of environment in the Philippines.
• Weak environmental law enforcement is a continuing problem.
• Governance is part of the problem.

She left the participants the following points to remember:
1. The Earth is our common home with the rest of God’s creation.
2. We are part of creation. Everything on earth is interconnected.
3. Pollution or abusive action has a corresponding environmental reaction.
4. Degradation of natural resources has reached alarming proportions that collective collaboration is necessary to heal the earth and ensure its feature.
5. We have the power and the responsibility to restore the environment in our own little way. We can start with ourselves by being environment-friendly in everything we do.

Finally, Atty. Batula ended with the note that we have so many laws and rules; most important is community involvement, empowerment, knowledge and united action. We must know our basic rights, and environmental rights are human rights too. We must not rely on laws alone in protecting and preserving the environment. We can do more, and achieve more if we are united. What we need is community action and organizing.

Attended by participants from different sectors, NGOs, GOs, LGUs, lawyers and judges, representatives from the youth sector and the academe and even from the business sector represented by the Oro Chamber of Commerce, the discussions were invaluable. Program proposal were presented which will be supported through mini grants.

The first phase of the Mindanao Leg was capped with an environmental activity the following day, July 25. Attended by the remaining participants, law students and representatives from the US Embassy, the bamboo growing at the riverbanks of Iponan was our little way of giving back - giving back to Mother Earth the very life which has sustained us.

Indeed, US-AIR Mindanao took off high for Mother Earth. Let us make sure that the programs will be implemented to fully impact the communities. Let us sustain the momentum and work together to have a productive summit six (6 )months thereafter. Looking forward for a safe landing and a truly meaningful “flight” for all of us.


Is an Non-Government Organization Catering Youth Services


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.

twitter: twitter.com/liceolegalaid
facebook: fb.com/liceolegalaidrn


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
Contact details:
Email: mindanaosulac@gmail.com
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:
FB: fb.com/ndulac
twitter: twitter.com/ndulac
Instagram: instagram.com/ndulac
email: ndulac@gmail.com


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.