By Chito Chavez
Officials of the German and Luxembourg governments appealed to the Duterte administration to initiate measures that would end the murders of lawyers and the harassment of human rights defenders all over the Philippines.
Barbel Kofler, German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights and Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued a statement on chiding the murder of human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos in Negros Occidental as he defended political prisoners and workers in sugar haciendas.
Ramos was shot on the night of Nov. 6, 2018 after filing a motion on behalf of a client, a political prisoner, whom he was serving pro bono as secretary-General of the branch of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) in Negros Occidental.
He worked as a volunteer to promote the rights of marginalized groups in the Philippines.
A few weeks before his murder, nine farmers, including three women and two adolescents were murdered on a sugar-cane plantation in Sagay City, Negros Occidental by unidentified armed men.
Ramos provided the families of the deceased with legal support.
Conflicts over land rights have huge potential for violence in the Philippines, stretching even to murder.
In Negros alone, at least 45 farmers have been killed since President Duterte took office.
“I utterly condemn the callous murder of Benjamin Ramos. As a human rights defender and lawyer, he worked on a voluntary basis to promote the rights of the weakest groups in Philippine society. He most recently provided legal support for the families of nine farmers who were brutally murdered in the same region on October 20. There is absolutely no excuse for simple farmers and the people who stand up for their rights having to fear for their lives. No stone must be left unturned in the efforts to investigate these heinous murders and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Kofler said.
Two ministers from Luxembourg also denounced the murder of Ramos and urged President Duterte to stop the bloodletting, noting how it has worsened since he came to power on June 30, 2016.
Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Romain Schneider, Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, also called on Duterte to use all the resources at his command to end the depredations of military and paramilitary units in Negros Island and in Mindanao, where they operate with impunity.
“We strongly condemn the killing of human rights defender Benjamin Ramos, executive director of the Peace and Development Group, by unidentified persons on November 6, 2018 on the island of Negros in the Philippines. Mr. Ramos was a lawyer and the secretary general of the NUPL in Negros Occidental and, in this context, provided legal assistance to the families of nine agricultural workers who were murdered in the same area on October 20, 2018. We express our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of Mr. Ramos and of the nine other victims,” Asselborn and Schneider stressed.