PNP: Professional practice, 'illegal activities' possible motive behind Sagay lawyer's death

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 8) — Police officials in Western Visayas said authorities are looking at two angles behind the killing of a human rights lawyer in Negros Occidental.

In a statement, Western Visayas Police Regional Office Director John Bulalacao said they are exploring the angle that the killing could be linked to Atty. Benjamin Tarug Ramos' professional practice as a lawyer.

Ramos was gunned down Tuesday by unidentified men on motorcycle in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. He sustained three gunshot wounds on his chest and was declared dead on arrival at the Holy Mother of Mercy Hospital, authorities said.

READ: Human rights lawyer, founding member of NUPL killed

The lawyer, a founding member of the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), was said to have represented members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers who were massacred in Sagay, Negros Occidental.

Local officials said they have gathered information that Ramos provided legal assistance and counsel to farmers allegedly involved in land grabbing issues.

Bulalacao added authorities are looking at the deceased lawyer's alleged involvement in gambling as another possible angle.

However, the regional police chief said they "cannot divulge material information (in the) meantime so as not to jeopardize the ongoing efforts" for the case. 

 

'A blow to human rights movement'

Ramos was the 34th lawyer killed under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the NUPL said.

International rights group Human Rights Watch denounced the killings, calling it "a blow to the human rights movement in the country."

"Ramos was a human rights defender who took on pro bono cases representing some of the most marginalized sectors in the Philippines. His murder is a further indictment of the impunity that has worsened under the administration of President Duterte," it said.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines also condemned the murder, noting the "quick succession of violent attacks" against lawyers.

"Our pens and typewriters are helpless against guns and bullets that have tilted the scales of justice alarmingly in favor of impunity and lawlessness," the group said in a statement.

The PNP said investigation is underway, and that authorities are doing their mandate to ensure arrest of the suspects.

The National Bureau of Investigation is also conducting a probe on the incident, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.