Like other people’s lawyers, labor lawyer Nenita Mahinay has found herself being tailed by state agents. But such tactics have not hindered Mahinay’s lawyering for the people. These have in fact strengthened her will to continue giving legal services to the oppressed sectors.
BY ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
Posted by Bulatlat.com
BAGUIO CITY – I had earlier heard her name as among the lawyers of the striking Hacienda Luisita workers in Tarlac. So I welcomed the opportunity of meeting her in Baguio as a speaker in a forum of various union leaders in the Cordillera region. In that forum, she always reiterated that workers have nothing else to rely on but their own strength in advancing their rights and welfare. They should not depend on state laws enacted by the landlord- and capitalist-dominated Congress – as these lawmakers will always think, first and foremost, of their own economic interests.
I have always viewed as absolutely brave those personalities who raise the issue of oppression by the state against its own people. Much more so with women taking the cudgel for the poor and the oppressed. Among these brave women is lawyer Nenita Mahinay, who is engaged in people’s lawyering particularly in the workers’ sector.
Records show that 17 lawyers have been killed since 2001 when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wrested the presidency from Joseph Estrada via the People’s Power 2 revolt. Most if not all these legal practitioners were involved in human rights lawyering among labor unions, agrarian workers, and human rights workers among others. They are among the 780 political killings committed under the Arroyo administration.
In an interview, the first question I asked Mahinay was how she felt about the killing of lawyers. “Panic,” she replied with a smile. “But the killings should not serve as a barrier for our peoples’ lawyering,” she added.
As a lawyer for the Hacienda Luisita workers, Mahinay has first-hand experience of police and agents violating her clients’ human rights, when vocal union leaders and activists were killed during the 2004 Hacienda Luisita strike. She could never forget the Nov. 16, 2004 massacre of strikers and strike supporters, while in fact they were just fighting for their constitutionally granted rights.
Lawyer Felidito Dacut was assassinated in Tacloban City mainly due to his peoples’ lawyering particularly in cases that wrongly implicated unions and human rights workers. Norman Bocar, another lawyer from Eastern Visayas, was killed for his role in labor and agrarian cases; he had also filed a case against Gen. Jovito Palaparan, Jr. in connection with several political killings in the region allegedly perpetrated by state forces.
People’s lawyers like Dacut and Bocar are eliminated since they serve as a potent force in the struggle of oppressed social sectors. “People’s lawyering continues as majority of the population – the farmers and workers – are being oppressed,” explained Mahinay, who is the managing director of the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE), a law center rendering pro bono (free) legal services to workers and trade unions.
However, in their advocacy, people’s lawyers avoid giving false hopes to their clientele. “We help them understand how they can utilize state laws in advancing their rights and welfare,” Mahinay said. But she emphasized the need for these oppressed sectors to self-organize to advance their rights, as their organization is their only strength.
Mahinay said laws are never neutral. She cited the Labor Code’s Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) provision, where the labor secretary or his representatives can assume jurisdiction over a labor dispute in certain situations, issue a back-to-work order. Under this provision, if the striking workers defy a back-to-work, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) can declare even a legally launched-strike as illegal and, for that reason, allow the company to fire strike leaders. Only the strength of organized workers can thwart the paralyzing effect of AJ-related back-to-work orders, she explained.
Like other people’s lawyers, Mahinay has found herself being tailed by state agents, especially after the Hacienda Luisita workers’ strike. In fact, through the help of unionists, her colleagues were able to corner a military agent from Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, Rizal whom they identified as Rommel Felipe Santiago, who was tailing her.
But such tactics have not hindered Mahinay’s lawyering for the people. These have in fact strengthened her will to continue giving legal services to the oppressed sectors. Northern Dispatch / Posted by (Bulatlat.com)