The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in the Philippines on Thursday condemned the killing of human rights lawyer Benjamin Tarug Ramos, who was the organization’s Secretary General.
“[H]e was for the longest time the ‘go-to’ pro-bono lawyer of peasants, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners and mass organizations in Negros,” says the press release. “Ben is the 34th lawyer killed under the 2-year administration of President Duterte. Excluding judges and prosecutors, he is the 24th member of the profession killed.”
The NUPL places blame for Ramos’ death on the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, under which policemen and soldiers have suppressed press freedom and political participation. In August several families filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging excessive use of force during the ongoing Philippine war on drugs; Duterte had withdrawn from the ICC in March.
Duterte is renowned for his anti-judiciary sentiments. In May he ordered the removal of the Supreme Court’s chief justice and he has advocated for the arrests of senators and lawyers.
In December 2016, in response to Duterte’s statement that “I will include [drug dealers’] lawyers … in my war on drugs,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged him to disavow his threats. “Duterte’s efforts to intimidate lawyers, human rights defenders, and lawmakers demonstrate that he’s willing to extend his abusive ‘war on drugs’ from the slaughter of criminal suspects to anyone who might object to that bloodletting,” said an Phelim Kine, Deputy Asia Director for HRW.
Duterte is troubled by the recent allegations against him, and he denies ordering Ramos’ assassination. “Why would I kill a lawyer?” he said during a distribution of land titles Thursday. “Why would I assassinate him? For what?”
Congressman Neri Colmenares tweeted “President Duterte, you are a lawyer. You know you cannot be attacked on the basis of the clients you chose to represent.”
“Who will defend the defenders?” asked the NUPL in their statement.