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Public Statement: Philippines (December 2018)

The Law Society of Ontario expresses grave concern about the murder of lawyer Benjamin Ramos and 33 other lawyers in the Philippines
 

Toronto, ON — The Law Society of Ontario expresses grave concern about the murder of lawyer Benjamin Ramos and 33 other lawyers in the Philippines.
 
According to reports, 34 lawyers have been killed in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte began his presidency in June 2016. Reports indicate that Benjamin Ramos was the 34th lawyer killed during his presidency, and reports further identify the following six lawyers who were recently shot and killed as a result of exercising their professional duties: Mia Manuelita Mascarinas-Green on February 16, 2017 (for whom the Law Society has previously intervened in a letter attached, for your ease of reference); Jonah John Ungab on February 19, 2018; Joey Galit on June 21, 2018; Rafael Atotubo on August 23, 2018; Connie Del Rio Villamor on September 24 2018; and Edeljulio Romero on September 28, 2018.
 
During a speech at the 19th Founding Anniversary of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption in Manilla on August 16, 2017, President Duterte instructed the national police to not be intimidated by human rights lawyers who were conducting investigations in the thousands of deaths of individuals that you referred to as “drug addicts and dealers”. According to reports, the President also instructed police to shoot lawyers if they are obstructing justice. Lawyers are being harassed, threatened and killed at alarming rates, and we implore President Duterte to publicly denounce these activities and to take immediate steps to ensure that lawyers can safely perform their legitimate professional duties.
 
As mentioned earlier, Benjamin Ramos was the lawyer most recently killed in the Philippines. Benjamin Ramos was a human rights lawyer and founding member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NULP). The NULP specializes in pro-bono work for low-income clients whose families have been targeted by the state. 
 
On November 6, 2018, Benjamin Ramos was reportedly shot and killed in Negros Occidental by two unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle. The shooting took place as he left his office in the evening.  Benjamin Ramos was shot three times and declared dead on arrival at the hospital.
 
Before he was murdered, Benjamin Ramos represented the families of nine farmers who were killed in the central city of Sagay after a protest on a sugarcane plantation on October 20, 2018.  This protest was one of many by farmers who advocate against landlessness in the country and Benjamin Ramos’ death demonstrates the deadly outcomes of decades-long land disputes and injustices.
 
According to the NUPL, Benjamin Ramos’ work angered the local police and the military who recently included his photo on a list of people accused of having ties to an underground communist movement.
 
We understand that President Duterte has expressed his condolences to Benjamin Ramos’ family through a statement provided by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, and committed to a full and thorough investigation into his murder.  We also understand that the National Bureau of Investigation has begun its investigation and the Philippine National Police has also ordered an immediate investigation into this murder.  However, the Law Society is troubled by the Benjamin Ramos’ situation and situation of lawyers in the Philippines. We urge His Excellency to comply with the Philippines’ obligations under international human rights laws, including the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 
Article 16 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states:
 
Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economics or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
 
Article 17 states:
 
Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.
 
Article 18 states:
 
Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.
 
Article 23 states:
 
Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization.
 
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
 
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
 
The Law Society urges the Government of the Philippines to:

  1. immediately conduct a fair, impartial and independent investigation into the murder of Benjamin Ramos and the many other attacks against lawyers in the Philippines, including the deaths of 33 other lawyers, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them to trial and apply to them civil, penal and/or administrative sanctions provided by law;

  2. put an end to all acts of harassment against all other human rights lawyers and defenders in the Philippines;

  3. ensure that all lawyers in the Philippines can carry out their professional duties and activities without fear of reprisals, physical violence, death or other human rights violations; and

  4. ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments.