PHILIPPINES: Lawyer and human rights defender Ben Ramos murdered a year ago
Ben Ramos, a lawyer and human rights defender, was cowardly murdered a year ago (November 6th 2018) on the island of Negros in the Philippines. He was the 34th lawyer killed in the Philippines since the election of current President Duterte and these attacks on lawyers are increasing.
Ben Ramos was the director of the NGO Peace Development Group (PDG), created in 1987 to contribute to the development of rural communities in the province of Negros Occidental. Despite death threats against him, Ben Ramos continued to work to defend small farmers, to provide free legal aid to victims of human rights violations, political prisoners and other human rights defenders under attack.
He was murdered outside a store in Kabankalan by unidentified killers who fled on a motorcycle after the shooting.
Since his murder, the situation has worsened for members of the PDG team who received death threats. 38 people were killed in Negros in 2019 (including farmers activists and human rights defenders) and 57 people, mostly members of human rights organisations, were arrested during searches at their workplace or at home in the city of Bacolod on October 31st,2019.
A few months before his murder, Ben Ramos, like many others, was subjected to “red-tagging”, a method of officially accusing human rights defenders of being “enemies of the State”, in connection with the Communist New People’s Army (NPA). This practice combined with the culture of impunity has been identified by national and international fact-finding missions as one of the main causes of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the past and continues today.
Senator Leila De Lima highlighted the government’s inaction in responding to calls to investigate systematic attacks and murders of Filipino lawyers in the country. The senator pointed out that about 27,000 Filipinos have been unfairly killed since the president launched his all-out war on drugs in 2016, including judges, lawyers, prosecutors whose professions put their lives at risk. According to her, at least 41 judges, prosecutors and lawyers were murdered in July 2019.
On Thursday, November 6th, 2019, a new murder was reported concerning a legal professional. Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez was shot dead by unidentified men in the late afternoon, who then fled after the shooting. He is the fifth judge killed since the beginning of President Duterte’s administration.
Senator De Lima has tabled a resolution in the Senate urging the Duterte administration to do its utmost to investigate unresolved extrajudicial executions involving Filipino lawyers and to stop attacks against them.
“The failure of our government to abet the killings continue despite the fact that United Nation bodies and experts have already raised concern over the extrajudicial killings in the country as manifested in the adoption of Resolution 41/L.20 by the UN Human Rights Council last July,” she said.
In the said Human Rights Council resolution, supported by 18 countries, the Philippines was urged to “take all necessary measures to prevent extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, conduct impartial investigations and hold perpetrators accountable, in accordance with international norms and standards…”.
The OIAD, Lawyers for Lawyers and 150 national or international bar associations and lawyers’ and legal professionals’ organizations from 49 countries had also called on the Duterte administration to take the necessary measures to stop attacks on lawyers in the country in a joint statement last September.
In addition, the Faculty of Law of the University of the Philippines issued a joint statement last Monday expressing its deep concern about the charges brought against law professors and members of the Philippine Bar (Integrated Bar of the Philippines – IBP): “The charges are nothing more than outright harassment, intimidation and undue interference in their professional function“, the statement said.
The Faculty of Law cited the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990), which call on governments to ensure that “lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” (Principle No. 16).
The OIAD provides full support to Philippine lawyers under threat in the exercise of their professional duties, as well as to all human rights defenders in the Philippines.
The OIAD urges the Philippine authorities to investigate promptly, impartially and transparently extrajudicial executions and attacks on lawyers in order to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.
The OIAD calls on the Philippine authorities to comply with the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted by the United Nations (1990) in order to guarantee the safety and physical integrity of lawyers, including through the implementation of appropriate protective measures:
“When the safety of lawyers is threatened in the performance of their duties, they must be adequately protected by the authorities” (Principle No. 17).