The author of this paper, Mr. William Christian P. Dela Cruz graduated cum laude from the Father Saturnino Urios University in Butuan City. His work is a finalist in the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity (FLP) Dissertation Writing Contest AY 2020-2021.
In many societies across the world, institutions, laws, and policies, which regulate social and economic interactions, do not provide equal opportunities and adequate protection to a huge portion of the population – the poor, indigenous peoples, women, and other marginalized groups. In most cases, while there are laws that are formulated and enacted to safeguard and uphold the rights of the poor, these laws are often ambiguous and costly, and thus difficult for them to access (United Nations, 2009).
Anchored on Amartya Sen’s concept of Development as Freedom, Chief Justice Panganiban’s philosophy of liberty and prosperity, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor’s argument that poverty is the result of exclusion from the rule of law, the author argues that the democratization of access to justice and of legal knowledge through clinical legal education is the key to safeguarding liberty, nurturing prosperity, and promoting social justice on the margins of society; and that legal empowerment is a fundamental development mechanism for providing enhanced social and economic opportunities for the poor and for eradicating poverty.
The experience of a law clinic in Mindanao – the Urian Legal Assistance Program of Father Saturnino Urios University – is a telling evidence of how clinical legal education has done wonders for the poor before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Legal Literacy on Wheels and the Online Legal Aid Program – the clinical legal education programs of ULAP – safeguarded liberty and promoted prosperity among the most vulnerable sectors of society at the height of the Enhanced Community Quarantine when courts and government offices were physically closed. Based on the narratives gathered and presented, clinical legal education in Butuan City liberated certain women from physical violence and economic abuse; protected certain students from sexual harassment; nurtured the economic prosperity of street vendors, small businessmen, and mass public transport drivers; protected certain individuals from unlawful arrest during the ECQ; facilitated the efficient delivery of the Social Amelioration Program to those in need; promoted the welfare of senior citizens who do not have families during the lockdown; rescued locally stranded individuals; and protected the rights of minimum wage earners.
The author submits that clinical legal education promotes liberty and prosperity not only for the marginalized, but also for seekers of justice (as Justice Leonen puts it) – law students – who, although still in the process of becoming full-fledged members of the legal profession, share and contribute in the realization of the collective vision of a truly just, free, and prosperous society under the rule of law.
Finally, the author recommends the institutionalization of legal aid programs through local legislation and collective inter-agency action as mechanisms for ensuring liberty and prosperity on the margins for future generations.
Read the whole paper by William Christian de la Cruz at the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity website – https://libpros.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Legal-Dissertation-Dela-Cruz-William-Christian-P..pdf