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Founding NUPL member shot dead in Negros Occidental

A human rights lawyer and founding member of National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) was shot dead Tuesday night in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.

In a statement Wednesday, the NUPL said that Benjamin Tarug Ramos, 56, was shot by motorcycle-riding men and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital after sustaining three gunshot wounds.

"We are shocked, devastated and enraged at the premeditated cold-blooded murder of our colleague and fellow people's lawyer, Atty. Benjamin Tarug Ramos, our Secretary General for the NUPL Negros Occidental Chapter," NUPL President Edre Olalia said.


Olalia said Ramos, whom he described as "passionate, dedicated and articulate yet amiable and jolly," was taking a break after finishing a legal paper for a pro bono client when he was shot.

"He sustained three gunshot wounds at the right back side and left upper chest of his body and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital," he said.

Olalia also said Ramos was the "'go-to' pro-bono lawyer of peasants, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners and mass organizations in Negros."

Though no suspects have been named, Olalia mentioned that Ramos had been linked by the police to the underground armed movement.

Earlier this year, Ramos himself had mentioned a poster circulating in Negros Occidental that claimed he was involved with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). He attributed this allegation to his being the counsel for six people who were arrested in Negros Oriental in March on suspicion of being members of the New People's Army.

"I am treating it as a harassment to prevent [me] from taking on human rights cases," he said.

Threats vs. lawyers

The NUPL said that Ramos is the 34th lawyer killed under the Duterte administration.

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

Olalia said other NUPL lawyers have received threats for handling cases of political prisoners, suspected rebels, environmentalists, and suspected drug users who are poor.

"The NUPL and its key officers have themselves been increasingly labelled and branded pejoratively by the police, military, vigilantes, some bigoted columnists, and online trolls, in open contempt of basic principles of the role of lawyers in society," Olalia said.

He mentioned the case of attorney Katherine Panguban who was allegedly "pilloried by the police, landlords and even biased prosecutors" for helping the victims of the shooting incident in Sagay.

"Atty. Kathy herself is facing absolutely fabricated and unbelievably ridiculous non-bailable police complaints of kidnapping a 14-year old who is in fact in the rightful custody, care and protection of her biological mother," Olalia said.

Despite threats, Olalia vowed that NUPL lawyers would still do their duty as protectors and defenders of the public.

"We the lawyers of the people will not be cowed, will not blink, will not retreat, we will not look the other way, and we will stand our ground. Yet we will close ranks. We will be there in the trenches in defense of the defenseless. There is no other choice," Olalia said. —with Anna Felicia Bajo/KBK/BM, GMA News