Remarks by Mission Director Lawrence Hardy II, Sub-Grant Awards Launch under the ACCESS Project

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

[As Prepared]

[Greetings]

Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here representing the U.S. government and the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.

I am very pleased that we are together today for the formal launch of the sub-grants under USAID’s Access to Justice and Support for the Rule of Law, or ACCESS, project. I am thrilled to meet all of you and learn about your organizations’ inspiring work.

Thank you to the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative for organizing this important event.

In November 2017, President Donald Trump laid out America’s vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, in which all nations are sovereign, strong and prosperous. USAID’s goal is to partner with countries on their own development journeys to self-reliance, which depend on strong democratic institutions, processes and principles.

Here in the Philippines, the Constitution determines that access to justice is a basic right for every Filipino.

Access to justice, however, requires that all citizens are able to utilize justice institutions to assert their rights and provide redress for their grievances. All citizens must have access to legal awareness, normative legal protection, legal aid and counsel, fair and efficient adjudication, and protection of their rights.

Marginalized and vulnerable communities and individuals in the Philippines face particular challenges. Lack of legal knowledge, financial resources or personal connections to obtain services from the government, enforce their rights, or influence the policies that affect them are common issues the face.

And while a formal legal aid program through the Public Attorney’s Office exists, the low number of public attorneys cannot sufficiently handle the high volume of cases, including those of indigent and marginalized Filipinos.

The U.S. government is honored to partner with the Philippine government and the Filipino people to help strengthen access to justice and the rule of law in the Philippines by supporting both the supply and demand sides of the effective and efficient administration of justice. Our partnerships with judicial governance actors and non-state actors working in this space have spanned more than three decades.

On the supply side, USAID’s recently concluded Judicial Strengthening to Increase Court Effectiveness project helped the Philippine judiciary plant the seeds for reform toward greater judicial efficiency. Through this project, USAID partnered with the Philippine Supreme Court to introduce the e-Court case management system that has now been installed in more than 300 trial courts. USAID and the Supreme Court have trained more than 3,000 judges, court personnel, prosecutors, public defenders and mediators, equipping these personnel to handle cases more transparently, efficiently and expeditiously.

Building upon this success, the U.S. government is investing more than 256 million pesos in the ACCESS project, designed to address the demand side through partnerships with local civil society organizations — including the sub-grant recipients here today — to raise public awareness on human rights issues, provide legal services to vulnerable groups, and strengthen alternative dispute resolution.

In partnership with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, ACCESS will support the Philippine Supreme Court to implement the Community Legal Aid Service Rule, which requires new lawyers to render 120 hours of free legal aid services to indigent people and vulnerable communities.

Today’s ceremony is an affirmation of the legacies that your organizations have built over the decades in defending human rights and helping shape democratic values in this country. Indeed, your mandates and initiatives in defense of human rights and the rule of law are requisites to keeping liberal democracy in the Philippines alive. Your work is an inspiration to all of us.

I am glad that USAID continues to support Philippine organizations and advocates working to improve access to justice. And at the same time, I recognize that there is still a journey ahead of us.

I am looking forward to hearing your views about the realities advocates face here in the Philippines. I also look forward to learning from you about opportunities to promote and protect human rights in the country.

I encourage all of us to continue working to strengthen rule of law in the Philippines so that the rights of every Filipino, regardless of income, gender, social status or geographical origin, will be respected and protected.

Maraming salamat po and mabuhay kayong lahat!

Issuing Country 

Last updated: September 10, 2019

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