PROGRESSIVE groups in Negros Occidental are looking into the possibility that the death squad allegedly created by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was behind the killing of a human rights lawyer in Kabankalan City Tuesday night, November 6.
Felipe Levy Gelle Jr., spokesperson of Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group Inc. (PDG), Clarizza Dagatan, secretary-general of Karapatan-Negros and Dharyll Albañez, secretary-general of the September 21 Movement, issued a unified statement demanding justice for the death of lawyer Benjamin Ramos.
READ: Human rights lawyer killed in Negros Occidental
In a press conference held on Wednesday, November 7, at the Negros Press Club in Bacolod City, Gelle said the murder of Ramos has all the elements of an extrajudicial killing (EJK).
“He was vilified by the AFP on the allegation that he was a legal counsel of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’ Army (CPP-NPA),” he said.
In April, his photo was included in the posters that circulated in Moises Padilla town which identified him as one of the alleged NPA personalities, Gelle said.
He was even maliciously linked by the 15th Infantry Batallion (IB) in an Internal Security Operations (ISO) briefing before members of the Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) in the municipality of Cauayan, Gelle added.
It can be recalled that in 2006 and 2007, he was also subjected to surveillance by military intelligence and there was an attempt on his life, he said.
“Ben, as a human rights lawyer may be a block to their objective,” he added.
A week before his assassination, Gelle said Ramos was being tailed by motorcycle-riding men.
“We hold the ruling elite, most especially the big landlords and the fascist troops of AFP as the forces behind the killing of Ramos,” he stressed.
Despite the incident, Gelle said they will not stop human rights defenders from continuing to provide services to victims of human rights violations.
Colonel Benedict Arevalo, commanding officer of the 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, said he condoled with the bereaved family of Ramos, but challenged the progressive groups to face him and prove their allegations.
“Sa mga nagsasabi na kagagawan ng military yan, magharapan kami diyan sa Bacolod at sabihin nila sa harap ko yung alegasyon nila para masabi ko rin sa harap ng mukha nila na sinungaling sila (To those who are accusing the military, let's meet in Bacolod. Tell it straight to my face your allegations so I can also tell you, you're all liars),” Arevalo said.
“They should stop deceiving the people. Let the police and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) do the investigation,” Arevalo added.
Arevalo said Ramos is not even a threat to them, adding that the lawyer did not win any case against the government.
“These are the pattern of NPA to put the blame on us,” the military official said.
Progressive groups can even kill their own kind just to put the blame on the government, he added.
Late Tuesday night, November 6, Ramos was smoking in front of a store near the public plaza when he was shot dead at close range by two unidentified men on a motorcycle in Barangay 5.
Ramos succumbed to three gunshot wounds.
The Kabankalan City Police Station has created a Special Investigation Task Group that will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case.
Police are eyeing three possible angles – Ramos’ profession as a human rights lawyer, the cases he handled, and the previous death threats he received.
For his part, Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Western Visayas also condemned the killing of Ramos.
Bulalacao has ordered an immediate investigation to resolve the incident.
“Initial investigation disclosed that the victim is a founding member of the NUPL and serves as a lawyer for suspected rebels and suspected drug users,” Bulalacao said.
“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,” Bulalacao added.
Ramos represented a number of political prisoners.
He was the lawyer of youth leader and University of the Philippines in Cebu alumna Myles Albasin and her five companions, known as the Mabinay 6, who were accused as communist rebels following their arrest in March this year in Mabinay, Negros Oriental.
Ramos was also one of the pro bono lawyers who handled land-related cases of sugarcane workers and small farmers.
Ramos was a founding secretary-general of the September 21 movement, a human rights alliance and the local chapter of Karapatan.
He was also a member of the quick response team that assisted the families of the victims of the Sagay 9, or the nine farmers who were murdered in Sagay City on October 20.