Negros Occidental human rights lawyer shot dead

Gilbert Bayoran, Emmanuel Tupas - The Philippine Star
Negros Occidental human rights lawyer shot dead

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines — A human rights lawyer who assisted the families of the victims of a massacre in Sagay, Negros Occidental last month was gunned down by motorcycle-riding assailants on Tuesday night.

Benjamin Ramos, 56, who was shot while buying from a store on his way home in Barangay 5, Kabankalan, suffered three gunshot wounds and was declared dead on arrival at the Holy Mother of Mercy Hospital, according to Superintendent Jonel Guadalupe, Kabankalan police officer-in-charge.

Aside from being a founding member of the National Union of People’s Lawyer (NUPL), Ramos served as a counsel of six suspected communist rebels who were arrested following an alleged encounter with soldiers in Mabinay, Negros Oriental in March 2017.

Guadalupe said a task force was created to investigate the incident.

Ramos was the 34th lawyer killed under the Duterte administration and the second in Negros Occidental after Rafael Atotubo, who handled drug-related cases.

NBI probe

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a parallel probe.

“I have directed the NBI to include this development in their investigation into the Sagay farmers’ massacre and determine if there is any indication that the incidents are related,” Guevarra said in a text message. 

Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, Western Visayas police director, condemned the murder and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“We assure the family of the victim of a thorough investigation to ensure the immediate arrest of the perpetrators,” Bulalacao said.

‘Bring killers to justice’

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) deployed a team to conduct an independent fact-finding inquiry.

“The CHR continues to express concern on continuing violence against human rights defenders in the country,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.

De Guia called on the government to “act with urgency in pinning down the perpetrators of this violence” and implement measures to protect those who serve the most vulnerable and marginalized sectors of the society.

“We decry the state of impunity happening today in Negros... There is a reign of terror when unarmed farmers and lawyers can be easily gunned down,” Renato Reyes, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general, said.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines expressed concern that lawyers, prosecutors and judges are being targeted “with surging frequency and impunity.”

The NUPL noted that a poster distributed by the Philippine National Police in Moises Padilla town “maliciously and irresponsibly” tagged Ramos as a communist rebel.

The NUPL said many of their members have received threats for handling the cases of political prisoners, suspected rebels, environmentalists and drug suspects. – With Edu Punay, Janvic Mateo, Elizabeth Marcelo




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