By Martin Sadongdong
A human rights lawyer who was helping the victims of a massacre that killed nine farmers last month was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding gunmen in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental Tuesday night.
A police report reaching Camp Crame, Quezon City identified the victim as Benjamin Ramos, 56, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyer (NUPL)-Negros Occidental Chapter.
Initial investigation revealed that Ramos was smoking in front of a store along Rojas Street, Barangay 5, Kabankalan, Negros Occidental around 10:20 p.m. when the suspects arrived and shot him from behind.
According to Ramos’ wife Clarissa, the victim had just finished working on a legal paper for one of his pro-bono clients when he decided to take a break.
The assailants fled to an unknown direction while Ramos was rushed to Holy Mary Mother of Mercy Hospital in Kabankalan City where he was declared dead on arrival due to four gunshot wounds — three at the back and right side of the body and one at the chest.
A follow-up investigation was conducted to identify and arrest the suspects and determine the motive behind the grim killing.
According to the NUPL, Ramos was part of a quick reaction team (QRT) who conducted a fact-finding mission to solve the massacre at a sugar plantation in Sagay, Negros Occidental last October 20. Nine sugar workers were killed in the mass shooting.
In a statement, the NUPL mourned the killing of “passionate, dedicated and articulate yet amiable and jolly” Ramos.
“We are shocked, devastated and enraged at the pre-meditated cold-blooded murder of our colleague and fellow people’s lawyer, Atty. Benjamin Tarug Ramos, our secretary general for the NUPL-Negros Occidental Chapter,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, NUPL President.
“Despite limitations, he was for the longest time the ‘go-to’ pro-bono lawyer of peasants, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners and mass organizations in Negros,” he added.
In April 2018, Olalia said Ramos was “maliciously and irresponsibly” tagged in a public poster allegedly disseminated by the police as among the key personalities allied with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
Ramos also served as the lawyer for Mabinay 6, the six youth activists led by University of the Philippines (UP)-Cebu alumna Myles Albasin, who were arrested in Mabinay, Negros Oriental in March 2018 after an alleged encounter with state security forces. The group later tested negative for gunpowder residues.
34th lawyer killed
Olalia said Ramos is the 34th lawyer killed under the two-year administration of President Duterte and the eighth in the Visayas region.
However, the NUPL said Ramos’ death only fueled their desire to serve the most vulnerable sectors of society.
“[W]e, 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 our ranks,” Olalia said.
“We will be there in the trenches in defense of the defenseless. There is no other choice. It is a painful price we have to pay sometimes in the service of the people and as a pledge to the next generations we will leave behind,” he concluded.