The Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development of Mindanaw (BALAOD) is a non-profit, developmental legal organisation working with marginalised sectors and communities in Mindanaw for the advancement of justice, gender equality, and resource tenure improvement in the context of active people's participation in governance.
In early 2000, a small group composed of lawyers, paralegals and community organisers - the majority of whom were from Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (BMFI) comprehensively discussed and p'anned the establishment of a separate and independent organisation aimed at pursuing a vision of equality, development and peace in Mindanao. Eventually, BALAOD Mindanaw was officially created on 11 August 2000. 'Balaod' is the Visayan word for 'law'.
A story of success
One of the most controversial cases that BALAOD has handled was the Sumilao farmers' case involving 137 Higaonon farmers from San Vicente, Sumilao, and Bukidnon, who went on hunger strike in 1997 to reclaim their 144-hectare ancestral land. Although they lost their case before the Supreme Court through a mere technicality, the farmers continued in their struggle for justice. On 10 October 2007, BALAOD Mindanaw journeyed with 54 Sumilao farmers for more than 1,700 kilometers from Mindanao to Manila to reclaim their dignity and land under the agrarian reform program mein the Philippines. The walk, entitled 'Walk for Land, Walk for Justice' was the most rewarding of all initiatives that BALAOD has taken, and a clear sign that legal empowerment through paralegalism can be a very effective strategy in advancing the rights of the poor. The Sumilao walk delivered tremendous victory in different aspects of community legal empowerment and national policy development including the enactment of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension with Reforms (CARPER) or Republic Act 9700. On 30 March 2008, the Sumilao farmers went home and finally were able to set foot on their 144-hectare land.
- Establishing Community-based Paralegal Formation Program and Peacebuilding: BALAOD assists in the formation and capacity-building of paralegals as a main strategy in resolving access to justice issues of the rural poor (farmers, indigenous peoples, and fisher folks), and enhancing gender-equality and active people’s participation in governance and policy changes through the adoption of paralegal strategies and non-violent means of conflict resolution.
- Advocating Local and National Policy Reform Responsive to the Needs of the Marginalized Sectors: In partnership with various advocacy networks, BALAOD conducts policy research, advocacy and publication involving access to justice issues that will eventually contribute substance to its local and national policy reform work such as agrarian reform and rural development, national land use policy, enhanced sectoral participation in governance, reproductive health rights of women, alternative modes of conflict resolution, among others.
- Mainstreaming Alternative Law through Strengthened Partnership with Legal Organisations and Individuals: BALAOD helps establish a network of law practitioners, law schools and organisations in Mindanao to provide a venue for alternative legal assistance to communities and organisations through the implementation of internship programmes and integration of human rights and social context education in the law school curriculum.
- BALAOD also conducts orientations, training and seminars on a number of legal and peacebuilding issues including human rights, Indigenous Peoples rights, campaign and negotiation skills, violence against women and children, policy and legal research, and case documentation.