A dream that Academic Vice-President Joan Palma has for the Notre Dame of Marbel University (NDMU) College of Law is to make it one of the best law schools in the country. Beyond the school’s aspiration to produce bar top notchers and excellent passing rate is to be a relevant legal organ in the society, and this noble pursuit would make one law school the best.

Important stakeholders for justice in the region gathered to witness the blessing and launching of the Marist Hope Center and Good Governance and the NDMU Law School Legal Aid Clinic on October 11, 2019, at Bro. Renato Cruz Building – Dining Hall (3rd Floor).

As the first Marist school in the Philippines to offer College of Law and the second in the world next to Brazil, access to justice as a moral obligation is a Marian value perpetuating in the legal aid clinic.

The program was previously introduced to the students during the Launching of the Diamond Jubilee on October 3, 2019, at the university gymnasium.

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Opening up justice for all

Dean of the College of Law Atty. Gerard Mosquera presented the overview and rationale of the NDMU Legal Aid Clinic. The new program would provide free legal services to members of the community who cannot afford to pay legal counsel. Moreover, it would also serve as an advocacy center for law students to conduct research and civic engagement, allowing them an optimum exposure to the field of law.

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If novelist and lawyer John Grisham is passionate about championing for legal aid in Mississippi, Dean Mosquera also envisioned the same energy and commitment among the future lawyers in the region. He added in his speech the challenges of starting up the legal aid clinic, and those are the innovative strategies to sustain the initiative and the availability of personnel willing to render not only a free legal aid but something of great quality.

He did not forget to acknowledge that the program is not a solitary effort by the university, but a collective one. True enough, the event was attended by law students, NDMU faculty and personnel, officers from the local government unit of Koronadal City, church leaders, members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), and so on.

“Behind the cases are human beings.” —Atty. Chan-Gonzaga

The guests for the event heard an endearing message from Atty. Ma. Ngina Teresa V. Chan-Gonzaga, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs of Ateneo de Manila University School of Law.

Mentored by constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas S.J., Atty. Chan-Gonzaga shared her mentor’s favorite quotation from the comic strip Peanuts: “There is no heavier burden than a great potential.” This quotation has resonated not only in her but on the very reason for the establishment of the NDMU Legal Aid Clinic.

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Since her law school days in Ateneo, she has been steadfast in fighting for human rights. Legal aid clinic and handling pro bono cases shaped her to where she is now.

“Behind the cases are human beings,” Atty. Chan-Gonzaga reminded the audience. It is even more relevant to remember such since the institution is situated in Region XII where social justice is terribly needed.

She said she is excited about the legal aid clinic and told the prospective lawyers to expect to forge friendship as an outcome for their services.

Truly, to advocate for social justice to be a “witness to God’s grace.”

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Making it happen

After the giving of the token of appreciation to Atty. Chan-Gonzaga, Director of the NDMU College of Law Community and Extension Services Atty. Noel Ben presented the partners from the various stakeholders and led the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement of the NDMU Law School Legal Aid Clinic.

On exposing the significance of the new program, Atty. Ben provoked questions to the guests: Do people know their rights? Do they know where to go? If there is an available remedy, is it of great quality? And does the legal aid clinic promote a safe community?

The signatories of the MOA are the following: NDMU President Bro. Wilfredo E. Lubrico, FMS, IBP South Cotabato Chapter President Atty. Arlyn Joy Allosa-Allaba, IBP Sarangani Chapter Atty. Alena Gale H. Palileo-Yabes. Meanwhile, it was witnessed by Atty. Gerard Mosquera and Executive/Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court 43, Koronadal City Hon. Gerardo C. Braganza.

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Looking into the faces of people

Massive support from different sectors of the community is key to achieve impact and ease among the people doing the legwork on the legal aid clinic. With this, partners gave their own message and shared their experiences in community organizing.

It started with Atty. Arlyn Joy Allosa-Allaba, lauding the initiative of the institution. As this is the first legal aid clinic established in the region, she reminded the guests that the motivation of pursuing the legal profession is primarily to render public service. Livelihood is just secondary.

With the challenges in the justice system in the country, she wished NDMU College of Law to break the notion that justice is only for the rich, while the poor are “just tiis” (just endure).

Meanwhile, Atty. Alena Gale Palileo-Yabes said that free legal services are not going to compromise the legal business, especially that the program is prioritizing the have-nots. What is important is that the program becomes available for everyone to utilize.

Koronadal Mayor Eliordo Ogena also talked to the audience, assuring them that as he is elected by the constituents, he is going to use the power given to him for good causes, including his support for the NDMU.

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Mayor Ogena (center)

He clarified that his ideals are not only justice but social justice where those who have less in life should have more in law.

Mayor Ogena also said that “Marist Hope Center” is good an office name for clients to feel secure in seeking fairness. The university should be able to live up to the name they gave.

Finally, Most Rev. Cerilo Casicas, DD, Bishop of the Diocese of Marbel started his response by noting the day is also the Feast of St. John XXIII, affectionally called the “Good Pope.”

According to him, the mission of NDMU and other Catholic institutions is the “teaching of the Good News, the News of the Poor.” With this, students of NDMU must learn such concepts by heart, and act with justice.

He ended his message by narrating an anecdote of the Abbot who asked monks how they would know when the night has ended, and the day has begun. The day has begun, according to the Abbot, “when you look into the faces of people and recognize them as your brothers or sisters.”