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NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – Activists and several community-based organizations commemorated the fifth death anniversary of a lawyer and founding member of the National Union of People’s Lawyer (NUPL) on Negros Island who was assassinated while advocating for the rights of the marginalized on Monday, November 6.
Members of the Paghidaet sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG), along with 20 community organizations, gathered to honor lawyer Benjamin Ramos Jr. at the PDG office in Barangay Binicuil, Kabankalan City. The late lawyer was a former executive director of PDG.
They remembered Ramos as a staunch defender of the rights of landless, oppressed farmers, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners, and mass organizations on Negros Island.
PDG is a non-government organization formed in 1987 to assist and serve peasant organizations and marginalized sectors in Negros Occidental province.
Ramos was killed by two still unidentified assailants in front of a store adjacent to the public plaza of Barangay 5 in Kabankalan City on November 6, 2018.
Before his assassination, Ramos served as the lawyer for several political prisoners and handled the case of University of the Philippines-Cebu alumna Myles Albasin and her five companions, known as the Mabinay 6.
The group was arrested in Mabinay, Negros Oriental, after an alleged altercation with state forces, but they later tested negative for gunpowder residues.
The killing of Ramos has instilled fear not only among community organizers but also within the ranks of lawyers like him.
PDG President Eduardo Florendo lamented the lack of progress in the five-year investigation into Ramos’ killing.
What’s worse, he said, is the pervasive practice of red-tagging, targeting PDG and its affiliated community organizations, which persists on Negros Island.
“Human rights abuses, threats, intimidation, and coercion are escalating among people’s organizations in rural communities in southern Negros,” he said.
Culture of impunity
Human rights advocate Pete Pico said impunity prevails due to the government’s failure to establish a mechanism for people to pursue criminal cases even without the help of law enforcement groups.
While the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) conducted an independent investigation into the killing of Ramos, he noted that the findings have yet to be provided to the surviving relatives.
Pico said authorities responsible for uncovering the truth behind Ramos’ killing allegedly stopped their investigation, enabling the culprits to evade justice.
“After two years, the National Bureau of Investigation stopped its investigation. Neither did any government agency, including the local police, give updates about the status of the case,” Pico told Rappler.
In a statement, the NUPL-Cebu said Ramos spent most of his life defending the rights of the marginalized even as the group expressed its call to end the climate of impunity in the country.
“We reverberate our relentless cries to end this climate of impunity, and we continue to seek meaningful pursuits to uphold the rule of justice. As we continue to stand in the line of fire, we call upon our colleagues to fight for the preservation and protection of our fundamental human rights and basic freedoms,” read part of the NUPL statement. – Rappler.com