Archive for the ‘issues and causes’ Category

This Chinoy Wants to Put Himself Out of Business

April 16, 2007

“Our end goal as alternative lawyers is to put ourselves out of business.”

Strange words for the son of Chinese entrepreneurs who have created a family business from scratch and who want nothing more but to have their lawyer-son at the helm. Strange words for an exclusive-school bred boy, with the world under his feet and all opportunities his for the taking.

But to those who know Levy Ang, those words are right on the mark. A labor lawyer and a member of Saligan, Levy believes that the role of an alternative lawyer is primarily to empower the sectors and to allow them to craft their own decisions and chart their own destinies with minimum intervention from technocrats and lawyers. In his line of work, Levy comes to the defense of the working masses – fighting for fair labor standards against oppressive employers, ensuring the enforcement of their rights, advocating free trade unionism.

It was an odd choice for a scion of a wealthy family and to this day, his parents and relatives still scratch their heads in disbelief. “My parents wanted me to join the family business, pero ayaw ko talaga. I went to law school to “buy” myself four more years. Nung nasa law school na ako, na-expose sa volunteering, sa human rights center, sa issues ng mga sector.”

And that was that: at the heart of capitalist, consumerist Makati, Levy Ang made the decision never to go into corporate lawyering and cast his lot in alternative law.

There was, at first, no deliberate effort to go to Labor and make it his field of specialization. It was the only slot that was open in Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan), the legal NGO he works for. In time though, he realized that he found his true calling. “Sa labor ko nakita ang kahalagahan ng sama-samang pagkilos para sa kaligtasan ng manggagawa.”

It has, of course, its share of heartaches. Like for example, surviving the wheeling and dealing at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) with one’s scruples intact. And not getting disheartened with losing what appears to be cut-and-dried cases where injustice is patent. Slowly, however, incremental changes are being made and incremental good is being done. Policies are slowly being crafted that reflect the experiences and struggles of the ordinary worker. Levy is proud of being part of that movement. He has been one of the most persistent advocates of the AKBAYAN-sponsored Right to Self-Organization Bill, drafting it and seeing it through its eventual passage in the House of Representatives and the Senate. In AKBAYAN’s campaign against military infiltration in urban poor areas, Levy stood as counsel. He remains supportive and committed to the AKBAYAN values of social justice and civil liberties.

“The important thing is to see yourself as one piece of a puzzle in a bigger project. It’s not just your work and your commitment; it’s you joining your voice with a million others.”

And in that sea of voices, Levy’s rings loud and clear.

The ideal world of Barry Gutierrez

March 27, 2007

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In an ideal world, there should be nothing remarkable about the story of Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez, Jr.

An achiever from his early days at Philippine Science High School all the way to the UP College of Law and a committed lawyer, he was granted the opportunity to pursue a Masters’ Degree in Public Interest Law from New York University (NYU). Wife and young son in tow, he left the Philippines for a two-year stint in the United States. Amidst cajoling from relatives and friends to stay on after he completed his degree, he went back to the Philippines – more committed than ever to finish where he left off.

In visa-crazy Philippines, however, with snaking lines outside the US Embassy and everyone and his mother dreaming of the Land of Milk and Honey, his is an extraordinary story indeed. For many, it is letting go of an opportunity. For Barry, it is simply standing by a life-choice.

Not that this 33-year-old lawyer treats this “life-choice” as a big deal. Forever punctuating his sentences with a hearty chuckle that is always just a little too loud and hogging the magic mike just a little longer than he should, Barry is neither the grim and determined activist nor the morose nationalist that one might imagine. He simply is someone who is truly happy to be back home – home being not only the Philippines, but also, a small unit at a housing project inside the UP, a teaching job in the College of Law , and a law practice dedicated to poor and the marginalized.

To refute allegations from well-meaning people that he and people like him are simply being foolish, Barry came up with an email that he sent to friends. Such was the power of this email that it was circulated heavily, even landing in national newspapers. In this email, Barry expounds: “”Neither do I believe that the United States is such a wonderful place to live and raise a family in. This is a country that spends billions on law enforcement and “homeland security,” but where almost no one feels safe in their own home. This is a nation with the best medical facilities in the world, but where without health insurance you cannot even get a splinter removed. This is the land of the free, at least until the government starts suspecting you are a terrorist.”

In AKBAYAN where Barry is legal counsel and in the UP Institute of Human Rights where he is director, these principles are put to good use – and find good company amidst like-minded individuals who believe in the same thing. And for Barry, that is the entire point.

He is not THE bright and shining example for other people to emulate. He is but one example of a person daring to make the unpopular choice, daring to make a difference amidst despair and desperation.

And doing so at home. Happily.