Legal Empowerment

By Jaime Pilapil

Legal empowerment, a means to eradicate poverty

“Those who have less in life should have more in law.”
That is the most famous quote attributed to the great former President Ramon Magsaysay.
Regrettably, we Filipinos have not heeded his call after more than fifty years after his untimely death by a plane crash.
Last year, the United Nations Development Programme published a book entitled “Making the Law Work for Everyone.”.
The book was actually a documentation of an experience in Nairobi, Kenya where a group of flea market vendors bonded together and came up with a sort of “paluwagan” so they would have a steady source of small capital. Just when they were starting to experience some success everything went to ash after a bloody election prompted some shenanigans to burn and loot their wares.
As part of the Millennium Development Goals, the high-level study report highlights are anchored on four premises. This was summarized by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his foreword. “First, legal empowerment is impossible when poor people are denied access to a well-functioning justice system. Second, most of the world’s poor lack effective property rights and the intrinsic economic power of their property remain untapped. Third, poor people, in particular women and children, suffer unsafe working conditions because their employers often operate outside the formal legal system. Fourth, poor people are denied economic opportunities as their property and businesses are not legally recognized. They cannot access credit, investment or global and local markets.”
In contrast, the report said, the majority of the people in rich countries have effective rights and duties, whether as workers, business people, tenants, or property owners. If their rights are violated, they have recourse to the law; if they breach their obligations, legal action can be taken against them.
Indeed, legal empowerment is anchored on the basic principles of human rights articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 1 said: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
In the Philippines, in most cases, local government units impose informal rules just so to allow hawkers, street and flea market vendors, including the so-called “tiangge”.
Still, with informal rules the vendors end up victims to corrupt city hall officials.
Nonetheless, in some cases, informal rules have helped a lot in allowing hawkers ply their wares on streets and even the four corners of the city hall.
Take the case of hawkers at Quezon City Hall, they are allowed to occupy a small space in far right mid portion of the quadrangle of the main building. But only those vendors with proper permit and uniform are allowed to make business.
In Makati City, street vendors are allowed in some alleys and pavements to sell their wares, also in proper uniform. While in the inner sanctum of the streets under the shadows of high-rise buildings the so-called “Jollibee” jeepneys are allowed.
In Divisoria, Escolta, Binondo, Baclaran, Balintawak, and even Caloocan’s Grand Central area, street vendors are allowed under informal rules. Still, they can maintain their small baskets, tables or tents only at the mercy of the city officials.
Maybe it is about time that a national law governing this particular sector of the poor should be passed.
The national leaders should come out with an “Agenda for Change”. “The state has the duty to protect and the citizens have the right to protection,” the study said. “In order for the legal system to play a role in empowering poor people to escape poverty, laws that confer the appropriate mix of rights, powers, privileges, and immunities are needed.”
Simply put, every Filipino must have the right to own a house and engage in work or a business. We cannot live on dole outs or subsidies. Every Filipino must earn his keep but there should be a law that will protect his right to achieve this. [Send your feedback to] -30-


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