Judge Romeo T. Capulong:

People's lawyering is legal practice in pursuit of social change


5th Conference of Lawyers in the Asia-Pacific




September 18, 2010





"After long years of experience as a people’s lawyer, I can honestly say it has been a treasured journey of self fulfillment and rewarding achievements. I know it will be the same for all the rest who choose to tread this path."


Judge Romy Capulong talks about people's lawyering in his keynote address to the 5th Conference of Lawyers in the Asia-Pacific at the SMX Convention Center, September 18, 2010. He is the chairperson of the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) and the president of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC).


Download: Keynote speech of Judge Romeo T. Capulong






September 19, 2010

The fifth Conference of Lawyers in the Asia Pacific (COLAP V) was held in
Manila, Philippines on September 18 and 19, 2010 under the banner
Human Rights and Peace Amidst the Global Economic Crisis and
Conflict. It brought together over 250 lawyers from 23 countries,
mainly from the Asia Pacific, along with guests from around the world, to
address the common problems facing the regions lawyers and to promote
the cause of human rights and peace.

Sponsored by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, COLAP
is the largest gathering of human rights lawyers in Asia. This year, it
was organized by the National Union of Peoples Lawyers of the
Philippines. Delegates developed strategies and recommendations for
future work and collaboration over two days of workshops and plenaries.

The conference reaffirmed that human rights must be universal,
indivisible and supreme.

It further reaffirmed that conflicts and war will necessarily continue to
plague the region until basic human rights, both political and economic,
are universally realized and enjoyed. The global economic crisis has
undermined and reversed progress toward achieving that goal, impoverished
untold millions more, causing widespread disease and starvation,
increasing the likelihood of political strife and conflict. Delegates
labored to develop strategies to promote full realization of human rights
while reaffirming the illegality of wars of aggression and other acts
which deny the rights of people to self determination.


The conference recalled the long history of colonialism and
neo-colonialism in the region, the wars of aggression in Vietnam and
Korea and the ongoing aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It
demands the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from the region.
Peoples in the region must rise up in struggle for peaceful coexistence
as a means to mutual prosperity. All people have the right to live in
peace, which is enshrined in Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan,
recognized in the non-written Constitution of Costa Rica and declared the
United Nations Charter. Only through the work of the people and their
lawyers shall peace prevail.

The conference calls for the immediate removal of foreign military bases
or presence in any form which amount to the crime of aggression and are
inconsistent with the rule of law and the right to peace. It particularly
notes that the US has stolen Okinawa's best land and subjected its
population to victimization by, and servitude to, its military forces. It
calls for the creation of a nuclear-free zone in the region as a step
towards banning all nuclear weapons. Every nation must promote peace
education throughout its population. We condemn the US and its allies for
putting obstacles and schemes to either persecute perceived leaders of
resistance movements or force them to capitulate while ignoring the root
causes of these armed conflicts. Its so-called global war on terror
has sabotaged the peace negotiations in the Philippines in particular
through the terrorist listing. We call on the parties to such armed
conflicts to resume their negotiations towards the effective resolution
of their social and economic bases.


The protections afforded by civil and political rights must apply equally
to the victim and the violator. Any departure from that commitment is
self-defeating, leading to greater abuse and the ultimate loss of those

Too often, in the region, democratic rights are made dependent upon
accepting free markets, free trade and globalization. Forcing people to
accept these against their collective will constitutes a denial of
fundamental democratic rights and too often results in their further

Security is not achieved by falsely criminalizing legitimate dissent and
by classifying simple criminal acts, no matter how egregious, as acts of
war or terror threatening the security of the state. The greater threat
is allowing governments to target their political enemies under the guise
of combating terrorism.

The preservation of these rights is dependent upon the ability of lawyers
to protect them and the will of the judiciary to preserve them. We
applaud the victorious struggle of our colleagues in Pakistan to deliver
its judiciary from Musharraf's tyrannical attempt to subject the courts
to his will. We express our solidarity with our colleagues in the
Philippines and elsewhere who, in the face of imprisonment, assassination
and other threats, defend the rule of law and the democratic rights of
the people.

The conference stressed the need to end impunity for perpetrators of
human rights violations and supports efforts to insure that those
governments and individuals responsible are held accountable. As one tool
to accomplish this and combat the rampant human rights violations in the
Asia Pacific, it is committed to the creation of a regional human rights
commission and court.

Unjust detention, torture and denial of due process, as is being suffered
by the Morong 43, cannot be tolerated.


The global financial crisis has taken its toll on the regions people.
More and more live in poverty, with 660 million unemployed and 152
million living on less than one US dollar a day. It has forced millions
more to leave their homes and suffer increased oppression and
exploitation as migrants. There is a concomitant rise children dying
before their fifth birthdays with social and economic indicators
revealing great suffering. The crisis has been disastrous to the already
most vulnerable sectors of society, including migrant workers, women,
minority groups, children, and young workers.

Governments have failed to fulfill their obligations to protect
peoples welfare despite binding conventions. It is incumbent on all
lawyers to know the obligations states have under these instruments and
to fight for their fulfillment. Those we serve must know that governments
are required to take affirmative steps to promote an adequate standard of
living for all, including the rights to jobs at fair pay, housing,
education and health care. The human rights framework is a powerful tool
in the hands of people who know and understand it.


The conference identified the need for human rights education and
training. Lawyers have a responsibility to engage in effective human
rights advocacy and community education. They need to enhance their
knowledge of international human rights and humanitarian law instruments,
their domestic applications and the international mechanisms for
enforcement. Lawyers have a duty to educate judges and inform the people.

Law schools must offer a broad curriculum which encourages students to
think critically about the historical development of law and lawyers
moral responsibility for the protection of citizens rights. They must
therefore include education and training in the substance, purpose and
application of human rights and humanitarian law and the duty of lawyers
to work to promote social justice and oppose oppression. Lawyers cannot,
however, keep this knowledge to themselves. They are obligated to
disseminate it among those most affected by the current crisis.


Enforcement mechanisms are needed to ensure human rights and all
available must be utilized. These include reporting to United Nations
treaty bodies and assisting civil society to participate in the Human
Rights Councils Universal Periodic Reviews. The conference calls on
the IADL to form a working group to study all the existing international
mechanisms to enforce human rights, particularly including claims brought
under Universal Jurisdiction. IADL should also specifically work with the
NUPL to secure prosecutions of those responsible for human rights
violations in the Philippines.


Public corruption impacts all aspects of government and administration of
justice and undermines democratic institutions. It is a crime against the
people and corrupt public officials must be held accountable, along with
those who offer bribes or fail to report corruption. The conference calls
for international laws and courts that would address corruption by heads
of state and multinational corporations.


A healthy and ecologically balanced environment is essential to the
enjoyment of all other human rights. We must therefore ensure that
environmental destruction by governments, businesses and multinational
companies is not permitted. Climate change threatens the world and has
recently devastated Pakistan, must be addressed. Effective international
instruments as well as domestic laws must be available to protect the
environment. While the environment is an international concern, local
participation is critical to ensure its protection while international
conventions are being implemented. We must think globally but act
locally. Environmental activists and defenders must be defended against
unfair prosecutions and law suits aimed at silencing them must be


The conference committed delegates to the principles of peoples
lawyering. Peoples lawyers derive their mandate from the peoples
struggle for justice not from the government, not from the law, and
certainly not from any selfish material agenda. Their motivation comes
from their desire to end the injustices committed against the people
because of an economic and social system that needs to be changed.
Commitment to social change is therefore an essential component of
peoples lawyering. Peoples lawyers involve themselves in causes
that fundamentally affect the lives of a sector of society or even the
whole of society itself.

The battle is not confined to the courtroom. Peoples lawyers employ
creative forms of action, mobilizing and utilizing the peoples
strength, unity and militancy, bringing the issues to the public and
thereby organizing and raising social awareness of their clients and
those who will support their cause.

Peoples lawyering is based upon an informed understanding of the root
causes of social problems and a willingness to dedicate skills and
efforts to serving and empowering the people.


The notion that human rights are indivisible is not merely an abstract
principle. It is impossible to secure some rights without securing all.
Those who do not have enough to eat cannot exercise their political
rights in a meaningful way. One cannot enjoy legal equality without the
means to litigate ones case.

As lawyers, we must struggle to transform the profession and society. We
choose to serve the people and we are determined to lead others to do the
same. We echo the sentiments of our colleague, Judge Romeo Capulong that
being a peoples lawyer offers one a treasured journey of
self-fulfillment and rewarding achievement. No lawyer  and no human
being  could ask for more from life.#


[1] Unanimously approved by the delegates, subject to style and the
incorporation of some additional points arising out of the plenary and