Demystifying the Law

By Atty. Macki Maderazo
"The exercise opened a new perspective to the farmers who attended the workshop—that they themselves can be part of the formal process of law-making—and plucked them from the margins of anonymity and powerlessness, believing that law should be written in stone by the learned and powerful few."

Law making and knowledge of the law is commonly perceived as the realm of policymakers and lawyers alone.

This dawned on me again when I attended the writeshop for the drafting of the Agriculture Code of Arakan, North Cotabato last July 2013 as SEARICE representative. The writeshop was a joint undertaking of SEARICE and the Municipality of Arakan, a second-class municipality in North Cotabato, Philippines with 28 barangays (villages) whose primary source of livelihood is farming.

For three days, we holed ourselves in the training house of the Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) located in a remote barangay at the foot of a mountain. We were to draft a proposed Agriculture Code for Arakan that would put together all existing local ordinances on agriculture and put in new provisions that would reflect the desire of the communities for a sustainable agricultural system. The venue of our writeshop was a two-storey hut big enough to accommodate about 20 people. The participants were men and women, majority of whom were farmer leaders in Arakan.

The first few sessions of the writeshop had that typical getting-to- know-you atmosphere, with farmer leaders barely asking questions or offering opinions. Most of the participants thought that they could not draft or formulate an ordinance because they thought making ordinances was a noble job reserved for the people they elected in office or for lawyers who they perceived as somebody who know all the laws.

But that changed towards the end of the first day as the participants steadily gained confidence. It helped that the process gradually drew them in as owners and authors of the whole exercise. They were asked to map their resources, issues problems and their perceived solutions in relation to agricultural management, conservation and use. It was aprocess of naming their realities and setting out standards and norms on how they should conduct their agricultural activities, and identifying what should be regulated and/or prohibited.

What followed after was a dynamic exchange of experiences and ideas between and among the farmer leaders and the MAO staff. Our sessions were extended into the night, but the participants remained active, their enthusiasm not at all waning.

We ended our session with a promising harvest—a draft ordinance putting together all the agriculture-related ordinances and new provisions that promote community seed bank, seed registry, and organic agriculture, among others.

The draft ordinance still has to go through the local legislative mill before it becomes an ordinance. There is still the possibility of its provisions being challenged; hence, everything is still hanging in the balance.

But one thing is certain. The draft ordinance contains provisions distilled from the farmers’ personal and collective experiences and learning from nurturing and managing their land. This makes the draft ordinance promising.

Moreover, the exercise opened a new perspective to the farmers who attended the workshop—that they themselves can be part of the formal process of law-making—and plucked them from the margins of anonymity and powerlessness, believing that law should be written in stone by the learned and powerful few.

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Photos are contributed by SEARICE staff and partner organizations and government agencies.