Blog March 28, 2024

Access to Justice Means Listening to People on the Ground

Contributors: Vino Lucero
Front page of Access to Justice Means Listening to People on the Ground
  • Justice
  • Pathfinders
  • Young Justice Leaders

An Interview with Vino Lucero, Freedom of Information Advocate & Young Justice Leader

The People Series is a set of interviews with a diverse set of leaders around the world committed to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16+, documenting their own justice journeys and priorities in the fight to make justice for all a reality.

These interviews took place between June and August of 2023 and have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: What is your name and role?

My name is Vino Lucero. I am a young Freedom of Information advocate from the Philippines. I am also a Young Justice Leader supported by the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies.

Q: What does justice mean to you, and why is it important?

Vino: For me, when I reflect on the lived experiences of people in my country, justice has often been inaccessible for the poor and marginalized. It is something that is aspirational for most of the people in my part of the world (in the Philippines and most of Asia as well). Justice is perceived as being for the elite and the powerful. It is something that does not favor most of the population most of the time. But justice should be a good thing, right? It should be something that gives power to the powerless. It shouldn’t be something that causes hurt.

We have the term justice, and then we have the concept of people-centered justice because there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to justice. While it might seem that justice favors the elite, the rich, or the powerful, when it comes to people-centered justice, it is really the underserved who are heard. The seemingly powerless become seen and empowered. People-centered justice gives power to the powerless, it gives voice to the unheard, and space to the underserved and underrepresented.

Q: How has your personal journey towards understanding and pursuing justice evolved?

Vino: Right after college, I was an investigative journalist in the Philippines. That was during the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte. One of his major policies was the war on drugs. It is quite different to hear news about extrajudicial killings. There were those accused of fighting the police, but in reality, they were just killed so that the police could report higher numbers in the war on drugs. It’s one thing to read it on the news or hear it, but it’s another to see the dead bodies and talk to people who were left behind by those killed during the drug war. For me, while it is really heavy, looking back, it was also an opportunity to be exposed to people’s lived experiences of justice.

Most of these victims were poor, from informal urban settlements, and did not have access to legal support. So they were killed, unfortunately. That is what started it all for me—seeing killings firsthand, listening to those who were left behind—orphaned by the drug war. Now, I am not working as an investigative journalist anymore. I’m more in the international nonprofit work, but this experience has stayed with me. When it comes to the work that I do now, and even with my work as a Young Justice Leader, I always keep in mind that I am not here as me. I am here as a representative of those I talked to in the past who might not have the same platform or avenues as I have right now. For example, when I have had opportunities to speak, I have asked myself, how can I highlight the stories and the narratives of those who are not able to take part in this?

Q: Who needs a seat at the table to advance access to justice for all?

Vino: While commitments from governments are key when it comes to fairness, grassroots representation is quite important. Listening to the people on the ground is important. Sometimes, there’s a tendency for us just to keep conversations in small meeting rooms among people who are at the top—the powerful, those representing the government, and then maybe their international counterparts from other organizations. To fully achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.3.3, however, we need to look at the data, listen to the narrative on the ground, and understand the lived experiences of people who, in the past, were not favored by justice. It is important that we involve these communities in these conversations and work with them as we try to attain equal access to justice for all. For this goal to be fully realized, there needs to be participation and co-creation from different sectors and different stakeholders.

Q: What role does justice play in helping to achieve the SDGs?

Vino: In my perspective, justice is ingrained in all the other development goals. If there’s no goodwill when it comes to the justice sector, you don’t really fully attain the other goals. Poverty, for example, impacts one’s ability to afford legal support or access available legal mechanisms. So, the way I see it, having a fully realized concept of people-centered justice is quite important because it is ingrained into all the other SDGs.

Q:  In what ways would you like to see justice take precedence in global leadership discussions?

Vino: For me, the first aspect to prioritize would be representation. If you care about representation from those who are not well-served by justice systems, then we can work on that. I know that some of these spaces might have limited opportunities to include civil society and those experiencing real-life injustices. However, even if limited, making space for them or including representatives to share their lived experiences is important.

Second, we should look at the impact of justice-related conversations on people’s lives after these events. While we have meaningful conversations in these spaces, sometimes, we are not able to follow through to make sure these conversations are realized afterwards. Even while justice-related discussions are prioritized during these events, I would like to see follow-through, later on, an assessment of what has been achieved, what has been realized, and what has been implemented. It feels futile if we just repeat these kinds of conversations every time we have these events, but then afterwards, we don’t know what happened—we don’t know if these conversations affected lives or changed policies.

Q:  Why is access to justice data crucial for young people, and what steps can be taken to enhance its value?

Vino: For youth advocates, having access to data is very important because we want our advocacy work to be grounded in reality. It is also important to complement those data with narratives captured from the ground. At the same time, representation in data is also important.

For youth, it is important for us to be captured in these data because lawmakers use this as a basis for policy-making. Other advocates use this to complement what the government is doing. Donor agencies use data to figure out what ideas are critical to fund. That’s how I see it—it is very important, not just for us as advocates in the youth sector but also for the youth in general, as a vulnerable sector. It is important to increase youth representation in data sets and improve data quality. In some contexts, youth are not seen as a vulnerable sector but just another demographic. When youth are not valued, data on them is absent. Youths face many injustices.

The first step is to become more mindful to ensure that these communities are captured in the data that we collect, store, process, and share with decision-makers in the government, business sector,  technology sector, or even civil society.

To the second part of the question—what more must be done is to improve the quality, availability, and use of data in justice programming. It is quite important that, while we use these datasets in our advocacy work and policy analysis, we should also keep in mind the need to complement statistics with narratives from the ground. This helps storytelling because we’re able to put faces to data and see how it relates to lived experiences—humanizing it. At the same time, that data is able to give us perspective on the macro situation. With people-centered justice, we add a specific lens to those who are left behind and might not be captured in these datasets. We are complementing the data with narratives from the ground and hoping that we capture all bases.

When I was requesting data from different agencies about the war on drugs in the Philippines, it was really difficult because of the paper-based system; there are photocopy costs, and it is quite expensive. Some governments make it expensive, so you don’t access the data you need. Imagine getting one page of photocopy of a dataset for USD 0.50. That hinders access to justice-related data if it’s not available on the website, especially for people experiencing poverty, because that is something the government wants to keep behind closed doors. You need to assert the Freedom of Information executive order to be able to access it. You will have to jump through hoops to be able to access it. That makes it difficult.

In the Philippines and most other countries in the global majority, government agencies are still working on storing and keeping data on a paper-based system, which adds to the hidden injustices that marginalized sectors experience daily. Matching what is reflected in official data from the government to what’s happening on the ground is quite difficult, and it adds barriers to holistic storytelling. There was an era in the Philippines in 2016 and early 2017 when the government was reporting that they killed thousands in the war on drugs, but in reality, independent organizations were finding it to be more than tens of thousands. It is quite difficult to match the official data in their narrative and counter-check those claims because accessing the data is hard and takes time.

Q: How do you want to see justice prioritized in global leadership conversations?

Vino: If you perceive that justice, as a concept, is for the elite, it is. While this is due, in part, because of our lived experiences, it is also due to how justice is portrayed in the media. In the Philippines, when you look at telenovelas, you see that the characters from rich backgrounds can get lawyers, fight for justice, and get out of prison quite fast. Meanwhile, for those from poorer backgrounds, it is really a struggle just to get a lawyer.

That reflects real life. In the news, for example, while we see people being extra-judicially killed or arrested, people from rich backgrounds are out of prison in just a few days because they have connections and access to lawyers.

As part of the community who does not come from wealth, I understand where they’re coming from. It is a challenge for us advocates to help the majority realize that it shouldn’t be that way. That’s why I think having a new term like people-centered justice prioritized in global leadership conversations is quite important because adding “people-centered” shows that the emphasis is not on those currently served in the justice context. It is something that is currently an aspiration, but it is something that is going to be co-created with the people, for the people, by the people. Having a different term like people-centeredness helps when approaching vulnerable communities because you get to tell them that, while you recognize their lived experience interacting with justice systems and injustice, it shouldn’t be this way. They’re not alone in this fight. When you talk about people-centered justice, you have allies not just within the country but also internationally.


This series explores the question, what does justice mean to people? In doing so, it unpacks the concept of people-centered justice. It aims to demonstrate that people-centered justice is a viable approach for closing the global justice gap and enabling the achievement of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals.

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