Human rights lawyer, founding member of NUPL killed

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 7) — A human rights lawyer was shot dead Tuesday in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.

Atty. Benjamin Tarug Ramos, a founding member of the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), was gunned down by motorcyle-riding men in Brgy. Binucuil in Kabankalan. He sustained three gunshot wounds on his chest and was declared dead on arrival at the Holy Mother of Mercy Hospital, authorities said.

"The passionate, dedicated and articulate yet amiable and jolly Ben, was a founding member of NUPL. 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," NUPL said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

NUPL said Ramos also assisted members of National Federation of Sugar Workers killed in the massacre of 9 farmers in Sagay, Negros Occidental.

Ramos, called "Ben" by his colleagues, was the 34th lawyer killed under the Duterte administration according to the NUPL.

"Excluding judges and prosecutors, he is the 24th member of the profession killed and the 8th in the Visayas," the group said.

It added that other NUPL members have been receiving threats for handling cases of political prisoners, suspected rebels, environmentalists, and suspected drug users.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Malacañang "strongly condemned" Ramos' killing, saying "any form of violence, other than legal, has no place in a civilized society."

Panelo added authorities are conducting an investigation into the incident and make sure those responsible would be brought to justice.

However, Panelo said it was "reckless, irresponsible, and baseless "to blame the government for the slaying as it will merely "inflame the emotions of those outraged by the senseless death."

Panelo said, "He (President Rodrigo Duterte) expresses his condolences to the grieving family and gives his assurance that there will be no stone left unturned in the solution of the killing of a fellow member of the bar."

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," he said.

Former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, meanwhile, said, "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."

In a statement Wednesday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the National Bureau of Investigation is already investigating the incident.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines 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," it said in a statement.

It urged the government to quickly act on the case.

"Lawyers, prosecutors, and judges are being targeted with surging frequency and impunity. Each unsolved and unprosecuted murder of the officers of our court of law is an attack against the rule of law," IBP said.

The Philippine National Police has ordered an immediate investigation to resolve the case.

"We assure the family of the victim of a thorough investigation to ensure the immediate arrest of the perpetrators so that  justice will be served to the victim and his family," Western Visayas Police Chief Supt. John Bulalacao said in a statement.