BAYAN-Canada is shocked and outraged at the extrajudicial killing of Attorney Ben Ramos in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental on November 7, 2018. Ramos was a founding member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, who for over 23 years defended those persecuted by the fundamentally corrupted Philippine legal and security systems. Ramos bravely defended those who dared to struggle for their economic, social, and human rights amidst widening economic inequities, the gross failure of land reform programs, and widespread hunger and destitution on Negros Island.
Duterte would like to spin the state-sanctioned violence and bloodshed he has unleashed against the open democratic mass movement in the Philippines as a legitimate counterinsurgency program. In February of this year, the Department of Justice submitted a 55-page list of supposed ‘terrorists’, including the names of prominent human rights defenders, in what critics quickly and correctly identified as a virtual hit list of opponents of Duterte’s increasingly fascist regime in the Philippines.
After the DOJ move to label human rights defenders as legitimate targets of state-sanctioned violence, a spate of local hit lists was circulated across the Philippines, including on Negros Island where at least two lists have been recorded. One of those lists was circulated in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, where two of those named on the list have since been killed in brutal state-sanctioned attacked led by suspected elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Another list was circulated in Bacolod City and included the photograph of Atty Ben Ramos and other prominent human rights defenders.
The reality is that those named on said lists, those like Ramos, who dare to continue the struggle for fundamental change in the Philippines, are on the side of justice. This year alone Ramos worked with several high-profile cases including the Mabinay 6. When a group of youth activists dubbed the Mabinay 6 were arrested in Negros Oriental, Ramos rapidly responded, escorting the families to the jail and tirelessly defending the youth from trumped-up charges filed by the DOJ in the interests of the big landlords. When a pro-bono people’s lawyer serving the exploited and the downtrodden is then shot dead in the street by masked men, it is simply connecting the dots to question how the state is complicit in such a crime against the people.
Duterte would say to those who dare to till the idle lands of the big landlords, “just wait, I will give it to you”. But history belies this claim as the numbers of landless farmers and homeless urban poor continue to swell amidst a rising tide of poverty. Duterte has given licence to big landlords and their private paramilitary squads to shoot to kill. Duterte has publicly stated, “My orders to the police and the soldiers, shoot them. If they resist violently, shoot them. If they die, I do not care”, speaking directly to the brutal extrajudicial killing of the Sagay 9, a group of destitute farmers who attempted to till the idle lands of a sugar plantation outside of Sagay City on Negros Island. And yet the promise of land reform does not feed families who are hungry now. In the words of Sister Patricia Fox, “land to the farmers is life to humanity”, yet while farmers struggle for their basic needs, the Armed Forces of the Philippines responds by sending thousands of troops to Negros Island to quash the people’s legitimate response to an increasingly dire situation.
Continuing his legacy of violence, President Duterte has called for open season on progressive lawyers, stating, “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.” The National Union of People’s Lawyers has documented 34 extra-judicial killings of lawyers since Duterte took power. “Killing lawyers is not just a brazen violation of their rights as people and as defenders, it shows that no justice can be expected under a regime that kills advocates of peace and justice, the farmers who feed the country, and lawyers who defend victims of abuses in the name of justice”, says a spokesperson from Hustisya, an organization of families of those killed by counter-insurgency forces and big landlords.
Who will defend the defenders when the Philippine State wreaks havoc on the poor to serve the economic interests of the few? The reality is, it is us who must step forward to defend the defenders. As international supporters of a just peace and of genuine agrarian reform in the Philippines, we must redouble our efforts to bring Duterte and his fascist cronies to justice.
We once again echo the call for the Canadian Government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to immediately halt funding and collaboration with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and other institutions of the Philippines State that are implicated in gross violations of human rights including extrajudicial killings and attacks on the open democratic movement in the Philippines.
We stand in solidarity with the movement to oust Duterte from power and bring about people’s democracy in the Philippines.
Long live international solidarity!
Justice for Atty Ben Ramos!
9 November 2018
Country Organizing Committee