MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang condemned the killing of human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos on Wednesday, November 7, adding an assurance that the government would conduct a "speedy and impartial" investigation.
"We strongly condemn the brutal slaying of Atty Ben Ramos, lawyer and founding member of the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL)," said Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
Government agencies, he added, will do their utmost to bring to justice those behind "this detestable atrocity."
"Any form of violence, other than legal, has no place in a civilized society," said Panelo.
The night before, Ramos had been shot at close range by riding-in-tandem assailants while in front of a store near a public plaza in Kabankalan City.
Ramos was the lawyer of youth leader Myles Albasin and her 5 companions – known as the Mabinay 6 – who were arrested in March this year in Mabinay, Negros Oriental, following an alleged clash with government troopers, although they later tested negative for gunpowder residues.
Described as the go-to pro bono lawyer for political prisoners, environemntalists, and peasants by his NUPL colleagues, Ramos was described by local police as lawyer for "suspected rebels and suspected drug users."
'Baseless' to blame government
Panelo said the government should not be blamed for Ramos' death.
"Putting the blame of the slaying on the government by a group or by a member of Congress not only is reckless, irresponsible and baseless as well," he said.
Doing so will only "inflame emotions," he added. (READ: Murder of 'Mabinay 6' lawyer 'an attack vs human rights movement)
He extended President Rodrigo Duterte's condolences to Ramos' family and friends.
"He (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," said Panelo.
Yet Duterte has also directed threats at human rights defenders and advocates, slamming them for accusing him of human rights violations but supposedly turning a blind eye to the atrocities perpetrated by criminals.
In August 2017, for instance, he warned he might order police to shoot human rights activists. (READ: Culture of impunity: Protecting human rights defenders vs threats)
"Sabihin mo, 'Pulis, barilin mo na 'yang kasali diyan' (Tell them, 'Police, shoot those who are part of it'). If they are obstructing justice, you shoot them. Para makita talaga kung anong klaseng human right (So they can really see the kinds of human rights)," he had said.
Panelo made no mention of such threats uttered by the President in his statement. But he vowed that Duterte would run after Ramos' murderers.
"The President will not allow any person or group of persons violate any law and get away with it," said the spokesman. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.