The first batch of ALG’s were founded in the early 80’s (PLRC, BATAS, PROCESS) and were identified more as a legal resources group. In the mid-80’s a new batch emerged (SALAG, PTSC, PANLIPI) focusing on non-formal education and training for farmers, workers, urban poor and indigenous sectors. At the end of the 80’s another group appeared (SALIGAN, DLAC, LRC) which carried programs geared toward developmental or alternative law concepts. By early 90s another set of legal NGO’s were established each carrying a specific sectoral issue or concern such as environment, women, agrarian reform, and children (TK and ELAC, WLB, KAISAHAN, PBPF, Free LAVA, FFW, BMFI). ALG's membership continues to grow at the start of the new century as it is joined by WOMENLEAD, a legal NGO focused on women's concerns.
Early efforts to unite these organizations and promote alternative lawyering can be seen through the series of meetings, forums and symposia held in the early 1980’s, one of which is a forum on alternative law sponsored by the Ateneo Human Rights Center in the Ateneo Law School thru Atty. Soliman and Atty. Abad with Dr. Clarence Diaz and Dean Cesar Espiritu as guests/resource persons. Dr. Diaz was from the International Center for Law & Development while Dean Espiritu was from the UP College of Law . The forum was organized to orient law students on issues affecting marginalized sectors e.g. urban poor, fisherfolk, farmers, indigenous people, etc. The alternative legal groups that were in the forefront of these issues back then were PROCESS, BATAS, DLAC.
At that time few organization saw human rights protection in the context of developmental concerns and part of the creation of the ALG was on account of the need to address the interplay between development and human rights.
The Alternative Law Groups started out with thirteen of these fiercely independent and outspoken legal non-government organizations, each proficient in their respective areas of concern, yet still struggling with the realization that concerted effort and mutual collaboration among them is imperative for impact and long-term sustainability. It was thru a series of conferences and meetings among these organizations that the idea of a coalition of alternative law organizations first emerged. The conscious efforts of alternative lawyers like Marvic Leonen of LRC, Jeff Plantilla of SALAG, Joy Casis of SALIGAN, Emelina Quintillan of PLRC and Hector Soliman of BATAS/KAISAHAN, Marilyn Cepe of BATAS, paved the way for the first alternative/developmental workshop in the country.
The First Alternative/Developmental Law Workshop (Subic, 1990) was organized by SALAG and was attended by thirteen alternative legal organizations. There, Atty. Hector Soliman presented his paper, "The Practice , Problems and Prospects of Alternative Lawyering in the Philippines", a situationer on developmental law in the country. The workshop was a result of the emerging need among alternative lawyers to work together and reinforce each other. The group took the first step to define and identify the areas of work of each organization, the commonalities in terms of concerns, problems and the possible solutions.
Towards the end of the workshop these organizations were able to list priority areas for concerted actions for the group. These were:
1. The need to create a coordinating body among the law groups;
2. The formulation of an action alert program, to address problems of security;
3. The organization of the Second Workshop on Alternative Law;
4. The common assessment of the paralegal training of other ALGs;
5. The sharing of ALG databases;
6. The formulation of guidelines on fees;
7. The release of a common publication;
8. The codification of a protocol or code of ethics for ALGs; and
9. The common assistance in recruiting for ALGs.
The first priority area, the need to create a coordinating body among the law groups, was extensively discussed in the workshop. An ad hoc coordinating body was established and was composed of one representative from each organization who participated in the workshop, plus a few other individuals from different alternative law organizations who were subsequently invited by the body. The body met informally every two months with Antonio La Viña (LRC) acting as the lead convenor and LRC as the secretariat. The meetings were actively participated by NGOs such as LRC, BATAS, PLRC, PBPF and TK.
The adhoc body was able to conceptualize and plan the second workshop for the ALG, establish and formulate the protocol for the group, and recruit other members through referrals. However, due to its informal structure, the ALG was not able to undertake major projects during its first year. The projects that were accomplished were those that required little time and effort and could then be easily delegated to a specific alternative law organization. Understandably, the group’s attention was on internal policies that would strengthen the newly organized network.
The second annual conference (Oriental Mindoro, 1991) was also held under the coordination of SALAG. It focused on the articulation of the concept of alternative or developmental law/legal assistance based on the concrete experiences of the various alternative legal organizations and identification of the different aspects of such concept as a means of translating the same into actual programs of work.
The need to discuss and define alternative lawyering was seen as essential in defining the organizations themselves, in correcting the general public's idea of alternative law as a non-career and in pointing out the commonalities as well as the differences of the alternative law organization in order to identify each of their specialization for better cooperation and coordination. It was thru this that the ALG was able to develop actual programs of work and plans of action for the succeeding year.
The workshop produced the first draft of The Covenant of the Alternative Law Groups. Atty. Marilyn Cepe of BATAS was elected to sit as chairperson of the ALG, and specific persons were appointed as representatives and alternates of their respective organizations to the ALG.
By its third annual conference (Baguio, 1992), the ALG network had formally organized itself into a coalition and adopted as its official name, THE ALTERNATIVE LAW GROUPS. The ALGs aim was to promote among lawyers, law students, paralegals, and bar associations, the use of law for the empowerment of basic sectors and the development of society as a whole; to promote solidarity and fellowship among lawyers, law students, and paralegals engaged in developmental legal assistance; to undertake common projects and activities that will redound to the mutual benefit of its members; and to uphold a Code of Ethics and pursue policies that will govern the practice of alternative lawyering.
The third conference also featured discussions on concept papers assigned to specific organizations. Sustainability of ALGs were assigned to TK, Evaluation of Paralegal Training & Evaluation Methodoligies to PTSC, Education Campaign for Law Students and the Bar Association in Developmental Legal Aid Office to the IBP Legal Aid Office, The Mechanisms for an Action Alert program to SALAG, The Feasibility of a Common ALG Publication to LRC-KsK, The Feasibility of an Exchange Program for Public Interest Lawyers Here and Abroad to the AHRC, A Staff Development Program for ALGs to PLRC, The Formulation of a Code of Ethics for ALG to SALIGAN and The Governing Structure of the ALGs to the WLB.
The Covenant and the Code of Ethics were signed and ratified by the following: Ma. Lourdes Dabao (ALAC/SALIGAN), Carlos Medina (AHRC), Marilyn Cepe (BATAS), Gilda Guillermo (SENTRA), Roque Raymundo (DLAC), Josephus Asis (KAISAHAN), Evelyn Dominguez (PANLIPI), Adoracion Cruz Avisado (PBPF), IsabelitaSolamo-Antonio (PLRC), Santiago Armamento (SALAG), Hector Soliman (TK), Johannes Ignacio (PTSC) and Eleanor Conda (WLB).
Convenorship was transferred from BATAS to SALAG (March 1992 – March 1993) and to PTSC (April 1993 – September 1993).
It was in September 27, 1993 when the ALG was officially launched. An inaugural program was held in Metro Manila followed by a press conference where copies of the Covenant and the Code were distributed to the members of the press. Since then, the ALG has gone through different convenors who organized conferences and projects that respond to the relevant legal and social issues.
On May 2, 1995 the ALG was formally registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a non-stock, non-profit organization and has a functioning Secretariat that used to hold office at Suite 1207, Makati Building 6776 Ayala, Makati. The ‘secretariat’ took away some of the functions of the ALG convenor since as a matter of practice, it was the convenor who used the infrastructure of his/her home organization to carry out the administrative, coordination, liaison, and even program functions of ALG. The grant from the Ford foundation enabled the ALG to form a separate secretariat that became the executive arm of the group.
The Secretariat was composed of a Director or Coordinator, Legal Assistant/Researcher, Executive Secretary/Cashier, and a Finance Officer/Bookkeeper. It was vested with the following functions:
1. It shall take care of the day-to-day needs of the council. The secretariat shall keep all records of the coalition. It shall prepare reports to the convenor, to the council and to the funding partners.
2. It shall act as a support center for ALG activities and provide coordination between and among members for the activities of the coalition.
3. It shall be the center for a continuing exchange of materials, publications, expertise and experiences within the ALG as well as between the coalition and other groups.
4. It shall be the implementing body of all the activities agreed upon by the council, under the supervision and direction of the convenor
The 4th ALG annual conference (Cebu, 1995) was also one of the major activities undertaken by the ALG during that term. The advent of globalization and its impact on social conditions prompted the ALG to highlight alternative lawyering amidst global developments. The following speakers were invited as panelist: SaturOcampo, a former spokesman of the National Democratic Front, discussed the national situation and the problems and prospects of NGO movement in the Philippines, Maximo Kalaw of HARIBON-International tackled social advocacy in the light of global changes and challenges, then Congressman Edcel Lagman, Chairman of the Committee on Justice in the House of Representatives, gave his view on the prospects of alternative law in the Philippines.
ALTERLAW, the convenor of the group, used the conference as a venue to introduce ALG to the law students in Cebu who were invited to join the conference. The member organizations of the ALG were presented one by one to give the audience an overview of their programs and services. Atty. Hector Soliman, one of the pioneers of ALG and former assistant secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, traced the history and Atty. Johannes Ignacio, the ALG Convenor, explained the objectives.
At the end of the conference, SALIGAN was elected as convenor of the ALG. The following committees were formed to address specific needs of the group: the Membership Committee, the Committee on Promotion of Alternative Lawyering, the Exchange Program Committee and other ad hoc committees.
The fifth conference held the following year (Davao, 1996) assessed what the group had achieved and reflected at the purpose for which ALG was originally established: to reach out, to lawyers and law students, and to engage them into the practice of alternative lawyering. The conference also set the direction the ALG must take in the succeeding years.
Discussions of the group also focused on the importance of the ALG to the member organizations, the support that members get from, and the support that members give to, the ALG, and the prospects of ALG politically, economically and organizationally. A resolution was made to concentrate the ALG's effort towards the local arena by conducting three symposia, one each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, for the purposes of promoting alternative lawyering.
PBPF assumed convenorship of the group during the business meeting of the 6th ALG Conference. Some time after, SALAG ceased to house the ALG secretariat as requested by PBPF as it was difficult for them to transact business due to the distance between the two offices, SALAG was in Manila and the latter was in Davao.
The tragic death of the executive director of PBPF, Consolacion Sardinia, on October 26, 1997 marked an upheaval in the implementation of the ALG program. The Luzon forum, scheduled for December was postponed along with the General Assembly of the ALG. The group was convened again for the sixth time only in 1998 with ALTERLAW as convenor and was succeeded respectively by AHRC, ELAC, and KAISAHAN.