PHILSOUTH LINE: Simplifying the law for Mindanao’s young

SYDNEY (MindaNews/16 September) –I visited a group of high school students from various schools in Sulu, Basilan, and the Misamis provinces at the Lady of the Pillar Retreat House in Mercedes, Zamboanga City where they were attending a three-day training-workshop on Philippine laws in early September.

The basic legal education for some seventy youth from Basilan, Sulu, and even Misamis Oriental was seen as an initial response to address the need for the young in Mindanao to know about fundamental laws, concepts, and legal principles.

Dubbed as the Street Law Program and initiated by the U.S. Embassy in Manila in partnership with the Philippine Youth Leadership Program Alumni Association (PYLPAA) and the Western Mindanao State University Law Student Association (WMSULSA),  the program takes roots from the same endeavor that hit the streets of America with success.

I spoke with Neil Pacamalan, cultural affairs representative of the State Department here in the Philippines for Mindanao projects.  He said the modules for the training included Introduction to Democracy and Rule of Law, Human rights, Criminal Law and the Justice System, the Barangay System, Barangay Ownership and Properties, Legal Documentation and Reporting, among others.

Neil said this is the first time the program is being done in the country, and from the impressions of the teen participants whom I have interviewed, the activity is already serving as an eye-opener if not a wake-up call to the content of our classroom subjects in the basic education, which are the K to 12 years.

Basic legal education is indeed relevant to any citizen.  From our Civil Code we learn that “Ignorance of the law excuses no one.”  This is based from the legal principle, “Ignorantia legis neminem excusat.”  Yet how many among those who had been brought behind bars knew not the laws or their existence thereof until they committed the crime or were tagged as offenders?  Worse, how many had been made to suffer or made to pay for their lives for offenses they had not at all committed?  And the questions go on.  “How many among us whose rights have been violated realize that they actually exist as human rights victims?”

The Philippine government should look into the possibility of the inclusion of fundamental legal education into the curriculum—not to augment the academic burdens of the learning child, but for the very purpose of simply letting the child know he has rights to live with, and laws to live by.

And if the laws can be simplified for Mindanao’s young as early as now, then perhaps, lawlessness would be a dying issue in the years to come. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. FrencieCarreon of  Zamboanga City is editor of The PhilSouth Angle and a candidate for PhD in Peace Journalism at The University of Sydney).