From January 10 to 16, thirteen (13) Ateneo Law Students lived by the foothills – and some, by the mountains themselves – of the Sierra Madre mountain range. Amidst the people of the Agta-Dumagat tribes residing in that area, these select students underwent the first phase of their integration into the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC), the Sembreak Internship Program (SBIP).

The yearly SBIP, along with the annual Summer Break Internship Program, is the flagship program of the AHRC, and has consistently produced batches of interns with one goal in mind: to learn the law and serve the people.

With the recent calendar shift that took effect this academic year, up until a few months before the program proper itself, whether or not the SBIP would push through was still an uncertainty.  However, by the will of God, whatever problems with regard to this that was faced earlier on was resolved, and the organization now proudly welcomes “Samahang Spot,” the first SBIP batch to undergo the immersion in the month of January.

Organized by the previous year’s SBIP Batch Kabaloy, the internship program began with the Basic Orientation Seminar (BOS), or a crash course on the various sectors comprising human rights. In one day, the interns learned about the children’s sector. In another, the women’s, and another, the indigenous people’s. An esteemed lawyer representing each sector would discuss the main issues faced by these respective sectors, followed by the respective actions taken and the projects conducted by the AHRC and other such organizations to alleviate their plight. Aside from tackling some serious issues on human rights, BOS also provided the interns with an opportunity to bond with one another through a series of group dynamics and other integration sessions. Most importantly, however, the BOS served as a training ground for the immersion proper to be conducted with the Agta-Dumagats of General Nakar, Quezon.

The area of General Nakar, Quezon where the students, along with AHRC staff Kristina Merginio, is not new to the Sembreak Internship Program. A number of other batches have already conducted their own SBIP in the said area many years prior, so much so that AHRC has established a good relationship with the Agta-Dumagats, as represented by Ate Odic, a native Agta-Dumagat and a paralegal that has served for the AHRC for a number of years.

Predominantly in pairs, with some going off on their own, the select students were scattered around the areas of Barangays Maligaya, Sablang, and San Marcelino in the municipality of General Nakar. They were each assigned to a family of Agta-Dumagta descent with whom they will spend the entirety of their stay in the area with.

Normally, the SBIP Immersion proper itself does not have a set agenda in mind before going to their respective areas. This is in order for the students to fully immerse themselves with their respective host families and communities. However, with the 2016 national and local elections fast-approaching, they were tasked to conduct a joint Kuwentuhang Bayan and Voter’s Education session in their set communities.

During the BOS itself, the organization Legal Network for Truthful Elections or LENTE conducted a seminar for the students to prepare themselves for their deployment. They were met with varied results when it came to the deployment itself. Some were bombarded with questions with regard to the elections. Others, on the other hand, were silenced by how much more knowledgeable the people in their assigned communities were of the election process and the unfortunately unavoidable offenses against them that take place in their area.

Each and every one of those who took part in this year’s SBIP had very different experiences with the week they spent in the area. After it was over, they were all gathered for an evaluation, or the RNR, which allowed them to look back on all that they have seen and experienced in the few days they spent with their hosts, and process them on a deeper level.

This is when Samahang Spot, or the new batch of interns, was truly born. After having gained a wider awareness and a deeper sensitivity on the many Human Rights issues that exist, especially after having gone through the immersion, the AHRC has harvested another set of students with the same passion, and the same goals and desires in mind.

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