Human rights groups and advocates are condemning the killing of lawyer Benjamin ”Ben” Ramos, who provided legal assistance to the families of the nine sugarcane workers who were slain in Sagay, Negros Occidental in October 2018.
The 56-year-old Ramos, a founding member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers and Secretary-General of its Negros Occidental chapter, was shot four times in the chest and back by motorcycle-riding men while he was buying from a store in Kabankalan City.
He was later pronounced dead on arrival at Holy Mother of Mercy Kabankalan City Hospital.
According to the NUPL, he had just finished preparing a legal paper for one of his pro-bono clients when the shooting took place.
Ramos was one of the lawyers who provided legal assistance to the victims of the “Sagay Massacre” which saw nine sugarcane workers reportedly practicing “bungkalan” or land cultivation, a practice by farmers done to prepare for the onset of a dead harvest season, shot dead while camping on a hacienda.
Various labor, farmer and human rights groups and advocates have condemned the killing of Ramos.
Human Rights Watch denounces the killing of Filipino human rights lawyer Ben Ramos, calling it a "further indictment of the impunity that has worsened under the administration of President Duterte." https://t.co/M5RV2sUr8O
— Carlos H. Conde (@condeHRW) November 7, 2018
As we march today in protest of Golden Rice, a genetically modified food that violates the rights of the people to safe and healthy food, we mourn the loss of Atty Ben Ramos, peoples’ lawyer and a long-time member of MASIPAG through the NGO PDG (Paghidaet sa Kauswagan). pic.twitter.com/ZXAeFBq6uu
— MASIPAG (@MASIPAGFarmers) November 6, 2018
Initial reports from Sept 21 Movement on the killing of Atty. Ben Ramos:
Atty. Benjamin Ramos succumbed to 4 gunshot wounds: 3 in front & 1 in the back. He was standing in front of a store when he was shot by 2 riding in tandem assailants at close range around 10:20PM tonight. pic.twitter.com/Xv2XdguUcW
— Anakbayan Cebu (@AnakbayanCEB) November 6, 2018
The NUPL in its statement condemned the killing of their colleague but said that they would not be cowed by the attacks.
“And we the lawyers of the people will not be cowed, will not blink, will not retreat, we will not look the other way, and we will stand our ground. Yet we will close ranks,” the group wrote.
“We will be there in the trenches in defense of the defenseless. There is no other choice,” it added.
Ramos is also the lawyer of the “Mabinay 6” a group of six young activists arrested for being suspected members of the New People’s Army after an alleged armed encounter with military officials but later tested negative for gunpowder residue.
A poster that appears to be tagging Ramos as a communist rebel has also been circulated.
Remember this poster vilifying some mass leaders in Negros circulated in Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental last April? Atty. Ben Ramos' photo was included (encircled below)
Tonight,he was shot dead by suspected state elements.
GRABE NA ANG PAMAMASISTA SA NEGROS! MAGBABAYAD KAYO pic.twitter.com/xrBgEvqLku
— Joisa #JusticeForSagay9 (@joysandreya) November 6, 2018
The Commission on Human Rights has dispatched a quick response team to investigate the killing of Ramos.
Calls to end killing of lawyers
According to the NUPL, 34 lawyers have been killed since the start of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
A number of lawyers involved in high profile cases have been killed in recent months. In September 2018, Edeljulio Romero, a lawyer who defended a number of alleged drug personalities, was gunned down while eating in a cafeteria in Roxas City.
In August 2018, 62-year-old Rafael Atotubo, who also defended clients who faced drug charges, was shot in front of his residence in Bacolod City.
Prosecutors have also been the victim of the spate attacks. At least 10 prosecutors have been killed since 2016.
In June 2018, Madonna Joy Tanyag, an assistant special prosecutor at the Office of the Ombudsman, was stabbed to death on a sidewalk while walking to her vehicle. She was five months pregnant.
In May that same year, Quezon City assistant city prosecutor/chief inquest prosecutor Rogelio Velasco was shot while riding in his vehicle with his daughter, who survived the attack.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines in February 2018 formed a task force to investigate the series of killings in the past few years.