"They will have to kill all of us for this great human being to die!"
The news about Ben Ramos, a lawyer of the people if there was one, came suddenly last Tuesday night. The text message from a common friend broke my heart: “Sad news tonight Prof! Atty Ben Ramos has been shot dead on his way home. No details yet.”
Benjamin Ramos, 56 years old, was Secretary General of the Negros Chapter of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL). He was a passionate and dedicated defender of peasants, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners and mass organizations in Negros. Among others, he assisted the farmers in the wake of the recent massacre of nine sugarcane workers in Negros. He was shot dead in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental by motorcycle-riding men while taking a break after he had just finished a legal paper for another of his many pro bono clients. He sustained three gunshot wounds at the right back side and left upper chest of his body and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.
Oh Ben! I grieve and rage! I still remember our last meeting in Bais, Negros Oriental last September. I was so honored to work with you. You were a lawyer’s lawyer, a good and decent man. I saw you interact with your clients among the Mabinay 6, a model for all lawyers. You were brilliant, funny, passionate, and compassionate.
Grace Cantal Albasin, mother of Myles Albasin, the student leader from the University of the Philippines—Cebu and an alumna of Xavier University High School, posted about Ben’s assassination:
“Our hearts bleed for the murder of Atty. Ben Ramos. On day one of the arrest of Myles and the five others, Atty. Ben came regardless of border and distance because no one was there to assist them on legal matters yet. As the Secretary General of NUPL in Negros Occidental, he chose to be more human and showed up to assess the Mabinay 6 case. He escorted the mothers to see their children at the jail. He slept in an office and ate with us. From then on, he never missed a single court appearance together with the other NUPL lawyers for Mabinay 6. He knew he was targeted, but it didn’t deter his spirit to take the cases of the ordinary folks including Mabinay 6. He always braved the more than two hours traveling to attend court hearings. He made his house a home to the families he defended. He eased tension with humor. In the short time we spent together, we saw a man of compassion and dedication to the less fortunate. He lived for the people without fear. This legacy he left behind is etched in the hearts of the people he served.”
His colleagues in the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers describe Ben as passionate, dedicated and articulate yet amiable and jolly. He was a founding member of NUPL and was for the longest time the “go-to” pro-bono lawyer of peasants, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners and mass organizations in Negros.
Ben, according to his brother-in-law, was a loving husband and doting father to his three children. He was “a funny and very Internet-savvy brother-in-law.”
I make mine the words of Ben’s NUPL colleagues:
“We are shocked, devastated and enraged at the premeditated cold-blooded murder of our colleague and fellow people’s lawyer, Atty. Benjamin Tarug Ramos, our Secretary General for the NUPL Negros Occidental Chapter.
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Earlier, he was maliciously and irresponsibly tagged in a public poster by the Philippine police as among the so-called personalities of the underground armed movement.
Ben is the 34th lawyer killed under the 2-year administration of President Duterte. Excluding judges and prosecutors, he is the 24th member of the profession killed and the 8th in the Visayas.
These beastly attacks by treacherous cowards cannot go on. Not a few of our members have been attacked and killed before while literally practicing their profession and advocacies in the courts, in rallies, in picket lines, in urban poor communities, and in fact-finding missions…The killing of our beloved, adorably husky-voiced zany, Ben has distressed all of us, battle-scarred and seemingly undaunted and impervious to threats and dangers while courageously, even at times audaciously, running against the tide of daily injustice, oppression and repression in defense of the defenseless and persecuted.”
Manananggol Laban sa Extra Judicial Killing’ (Manlaban sa EJK), a group of lawyers and law students that I co-convene, also condemn in the strongest possible terms the killing of Ben. For us in Manlaban: “In life as in death, Atty. Benjamin faithfully followed his chosen mission to defend the poor and the downtrodden; unselfishly offering himself, up to the very end, in the service of others. Let Atty. Benjamin’s death not be in vain! Let us continue the fight for justice for Atty. Benjamin and all victims of human rights violations!”
Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo, on behalf of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines which he heads as President, echoes the NUPL and Manlaban statements:
“We decry this latest incident in a quick succession of violent attacks against lawyers, who are now enveloped in fear as they seek to provide access to justice to their clients.”
Our pens and typewriters are helpless against guns and bullets that have tilted the scales of justice alarmingly in favor of impunity and lawlessness, all in arrant disregard of the sanctity of human life.”
I share the sentiments of Dean Chel Diokno who said: “I condemn the murder of a fellow member of the Bar. I am outraged at the thought that his advocacy could have caused his own murder or might justify it. His murder is inexcusable and must be investigated, and the perpetrators, brought to justice. I condole with Atty. Ramos’s family and friends, his clients, and colleagues. Now is not the time to cower in fear, especially for men and women of the law.”
There is nothing uncertain about why Ben was killed. As Erin Tañada pointed out, this was because of his human rights advocacy.
Chief Justice Meilou Sereno is absolutely correct when she says, “Any government that does not act to stop the rampant killing of defense lawyers, by such inaction, kills not only its citizens and their defenders, but also the rule of law, and thereby, extinguishes hopes for a just and humane future.”
Kabataan party-list Representative Sarah Elago has insight in pointing out that it is ironic that those who fight for the spirit of the law are the ones who get demonized and killed, while the state “perverts” it. According to Sarah: “The tables are turned against the people and their defenders as the police and armed mercenaries of the state reign in impunity, under a president that seeks to monopolize power and wreak havoc on the nation.”
They killed Ben Ramos, lawyer of the people. But Inday Espina-Varona is right: “Human rights lawyer Ben Ramos has always known that he was a target. He could have fled to comfort to safer lands. He carried on, knowing his fellow Negrosanons needed champions of the law to defend against attacks both brazen and insidious.
They got him. Six wounds. They got the body. And only the body.
His spirit whispers in the wind, urging strength; he sings the psalms of comfort.
In the wind the spirit croons a name. It is called Freedom.”
This is why the NUPL, and I am with them on this, promises: “And we 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 ranks.
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.”
Ben Ramos lives on! They will have to kill all of us for this great human being to die!
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