Legal Empowerment Network-Southeast Asia convenes to strengthen legal empowerment strategies and approaches

LEN-SEA convenes to strengthen legal empowerment strategies and approaches

Figure 1: Sheila Formento of the Alternative Law Groups (Philippines) speaking at the LEN-SEA regional convening.

On October 27th to 30th 2022, the Legal Empowerment Network - Southeast Asia (LEN-SEA) convened in the Philippines to discuss legal empowerment strategies and approaches, propose ways of collectively tackling the challenge of shrinking civic space, and identify the network’s activities for the next three to five years. Hosted by Alternative Law Groups (ALG), the regional anchor of LEN-SEA, we brought together 17 legal empowerment organizations from across Southeast Asia.

Entitled, “Building Resilience for Legal Empowerment: Strengthening Grassroots Justice Defenders in SEA,” the four-day regional convening aims to strengthen the community, members’ engagement and internal structure of the legal empowerment network in the Southeast Asia region.

Marlon Manuel, Namati’s Senior Advisor, opened the first day of the LEN-SEA regional convening by reviewing the key concepts of legal empowerment. Marlon led an activity where the delegates shared the current legal empowerment challenges they are facing. Some of the key issues identified include language barriers, lack of support from the government, lack of funding and resources, and the shrinking civic space. Despite these challenges in the legal empowerment practice, some best practices were highlighted. Sor Rattanamanee Polkla of Community Resource Centre (Thailand) said one of the best practices in legal empowerment is to work on advocacy and campaign.

Figure 2: Sor Rattanamanee Polkla of Community Resource Centre (Thailand): “You can do a very small thing, but it can also affect a big thing.”

After the sharing of best practices, Forum Asia’s Laura Naw joined the group virtually and shared some inputs on the regional situation of shrinking civic space. This issue arose as a common and major problem for SEA countries and it continued to worsen because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Laura recommended building solidarity and movement within each country to fight against the shrinking civic space.

The second day of the regional convening started with a presentation of Ray Paolo Santiago of the Ateneo Human Rights Center (Philippines) on the roles of the ASEAN bodies and opportunities for engagement.

Marlon then discussed the Learning Agenda – a vital component of the LEN-SEA’s work. The Learning Agenda aims for the network to have a systematic learning mechanism where the members can learn collectively and collaboratively across different contexts. To aid with the learning workshop, Sheila Formento of the Alternative Law Groups (Philippines) presented the results of the research about the implementation of the SDG 16 in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. Overall findings of the consolidated report show that all four countries have existing legal frameworks in place to uphold and guarantee the rule of law and protect citizens’ rights. However, the research also showed that there are still challenges these countries are facing in terms of promoting the rule of law and ensuring equal justice for all. These challenges include: 1) Shrinking political spaces and civil liberties, 2) Implementation of existing laws and regulations, 3) Availability and accessibility of legal services and 4) Level of awareness of legal frameworks, processes and services; and the capability to access and utilize them.

Figure 3: Delegates from the core group of LEN-SEA convened at the venue in Manila, Philippines

Then, the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (Indonesia), Alternative Law Groups (Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia), and Asylum Access (Malaysia and Thailand) presented updates on their research about legal empowerment work. To close the second day of the regional convening, the delegates underwent a workshop about the learning needs and agenda for Southeast Asia.

The third day of the regional convening kicked off with community visits. The delegates were divided into three groups and went to the grassroots communities of various sectors: labor, women, and LGBTQIA+. During these visits, the participants learned new legal empowerment approaches and paralegal formation strategies. They also shared and compared the situation of these marginalized sectors in their respective countries. After the community visits, the delegates identified the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of the network. .

Figure 4: LEN-SEA delegates group photo

The Building Resilience for Legal Empowerment: Strengthening Grassroots Justice Defenders in SEA culminated with the strategic planning of activities of the LEN-SEA for the next three to five years. The strategic plan focused on learning, collective action, community building, and fundraising activities for the network. This includes improvement of digital communications, strengthening the members through capacity building, and popularizing legal empowerment work, among others.

Read more about the discussion here.

Participating Organizations:

  • Alternative Law Groups (ALG) (Philippines)
  • Asylum Access Thailand (AAT) (Thailand)
  • Asylum Access Malaysia (AAM) (Malaysia)
  • Ateneo Human Rights Center (Philippines)
  • Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw, Inc. (BALAOD Mindanaw) (Philippines)
  • Braveheart Foundation (Myanmar)
  • Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC) (Thailand)
  • Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (DHRRA) (Malaysia)
  • Earthrights International
  • Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) (Philippines)
  • Indonesia Judicial Research Society (IJRS) (Indonesia)
  • Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation/ Yaysan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia (YLBHI) (Indonesia)
  • International Development Research Centre (IDRC) (Canada)
  • International Rescue Committee (IRC) (Thailand)
  • KAISAHAN Solidarity Towards Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (Philippines)
  • Law and Development Partnership (LDP) (Laos)
  • Namati (Myanmar)

@sheformento @marlonmanuel @reneclem @JaycenAligway @cingdonnuam @Yadana @AtcharaChanOkul @sorcrc @MattAAT @MuhamadIsnur @rahma @BesthaAshila @maaliniramalo @HuiYingTham @siliphone @Vuthy @RaffyPajares @ritzlee @arpeesantiago @Tone_Marzan @MaryClaire @AdrianDiGiovanni @lizelmones @gmarabejo @ThinThinHtet @magunoy @DominiqueCalanas


Wow!!! What a great article and very visualizing! Good job, Jaycen.


Thanks. I will share by CRC Facebook page and Twitter. Best regards, Sor.