The Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN) was founded in November 1987 just a few months after the ratification of the Philippine Constitution. Initially, the institution was composed of two lawyers, Atty. Ferdinand Casis and Atty. Roberto Gana[2], and one law student, Atty. Alberto Agra. They were still connected with the Archdiocese of Manila Labor Center (AMLC)[3] when the three realized the need for a legal resource non-government organization (NGO) that would redefine the concept of legal assistance by using the law not only to uplift the masses but to empower the latter as well.

The idea was to set-up a legal NGO that would focus on sectoral rights and concerns by providing direct legal assistance to people’s organizations (POs) and other NGOs, which emerged as a result of the newly founded democracy brought about by the EDSA Revolution, towards a common societal goal of democratizing and empowering the basic sectors through legal education and paralegal formation. By November of 1987, the idea finally came into existence when SALIGAN, then known as ALAC (Alternative Legal Assistance Center), got its first funding grant from The Asia Foundation through the help of Fr. Joaquin Berns, S.J., then President of the Ateneo University and Founding Chair of the ALAC Board of Trustees.

Initially, the institution offered litigation as its primary service and legal education was only secondary, done on an occasional as-the-need-arose basis. The strategy was to give direct assistance to the organizing efforts of NGOs and POs working at the base level of marginalized sectors, i.e., labor, peasant and urban poor. The situation of these sectors was further aggravated by the lack of sufficient legal assistance and plain ignorance of their rights, placing them at the mercy of their adversaries’ lawyers. It was later realized that, while litigation remains indispensable, it proves to be insufficient in serving the goal of empowering the basic sectors and decreasing their dependence on lawyers. The institution’s development required the discarding of the unquestioning adherence to the law and its basic concepts towards a more critical view of the law.

[1] Lifted from SALIGAN in Retrospect: 15 years of Trials and Triumphs, Anniversary Publication, 2002

[2] Atty. Robert Gana died in 1998 in the Cebu Pacific air crash

[3] Prior to AMLC, the three worked for the Ateneo Center for Community Services and Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs.