An­other rights lawyer mur­dered in the Philip­pines

Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - Opinion -

By most ac­counts, Ben­jamin Ramos died do­ing ex­actly what he had al­ways done as a hu­man rights lawyer: help­ing his clients free of charge. On the evening of Novem­ber 6, Ramos was tak­ing a break from as­sist­ing a client when gun­men on a mo­tor­cy­cle shot him three times. Ramos was 56 years old.

Ramos’s mur­der in the cen­tral Philip­pine prov­ince of Ne­gros Oc­ci­den­tal is shock­ing but, sadly, not sur­pris­ing in a coun­try where im­punity for ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings and other se­ri­ous rights vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing “drug war” mur­ders, pre­vails.

Lawyers like Ramos who rep­re­sent the most marginal­ized peo­ple in the Philip­pines have them­selves also been vic­tims of abuse. For his work, au­thor­i­ties vil­i­fied Ramos as a com­mu­nist and ha­rassed his col­leagues. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Union of Peo­ples’ Lawyers, which he helped es­tab­lish, Ramos was the 34th lawyer to have been mur­dered since Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte took of­fice.

Ramos’s mur­der also un­der­scores the per­sis­tence of in­jus­tice in Ne­gros, where land­less­ness has bred decades­old agrar­ian con­flict. Ramos was rep­re­sent­ing fam­i­lies of vic­tims of last month’s Sa­gay Mas­sacre, when nine ac­tivists were gunned down af­ter join­ing a protest on a su­gar­cane plan­ta­tion. These protests, known as “bungkalan,” have of­ten re­sulted in vi­o­lence in Ne­gros and else­where, as peas­ants and farm­ers oc­cupy con­tested prop­erty and are met with re­sis­tance from landown­ers. Three decades since the Philip­pines’ “Peo­ple Power” upris­ing spurred de­mands for change, agrar­ian re­form re­mains an un­ful­filled prom­ise.

The Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Sugar Work­ers has re­ported that 172 farm­ers, peas­ants and land rights ac­tivists – 45 in Ne­gros alone – have been killed dur­ing Duterte’s two years in of­fice. Only about 15 cases have been filed in court and none have re­sulted in a con­vic­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Philip­pine hu­man rights group Kara­p­atan.

At­tacks against farm­ers and peas­ants – and those who rep­re­sent them – high­light the deadly con­se­quences of land in­jus­tice in the Philip­pines and the govern­ment’s con­tin­ued fail­ure to ad­dress a long-sim­mer­ing is­sue.

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