‘We are being killed out there, Mr. Tan’
To Inquirer columnist Oscar Franklin Tan:
On Nov. 6, 2018, lawyer Benjamin Ramos Jr., one of our founding members, was shot dead in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, by unidentified assailants.
Attorney Ramos had been assisting the families of nine sugarcane workers who were slain in Sagay, Negros Occidental, last month. He was a staunch human rights advocate who had readily provided pro bono legal services to embattled activists and peasants fighting for land rights.
Another one of our lawyers, Kathy Panguban, is facing a patently malicious and baseless charge for the nonbailable offense of kidnapping.
Like Ramos, Panguban provided legal assistance to the families of the slain sugarcane workers in Sagay by facilitating a mother’s recovery of her custody over a 14-year-old witness to the atrocity.
Ramos is the 34th member of the legal profession killed since President Duterte came to power in 2016.
Panguban is certainly not the first of our lawyers to have been slapped with a groundless harassment suit for the legitimate practice of law or, worse, faced violent threats to their life.
We are saddened that, amid this brutal milieu, you have devoted much of your precious column space to disparage our efforts before the Supreme Court based on yardsticks you haughtily brandish on account of your Harvard “pedigree” and ability to rub elbows with who you perceive to be the rising eagles of the legal profession.
We would have immensely benefited if you, instead, shared your insights on mechanisms we could further explore to protect our ranks, or tapped into your apparently vast network to raise a hue and cry against these atrocities committed against members of our profession.
However, we are consoled by the fact that groups and institutions have spoken up. These recent events have propelled us to link arms with various international human rights and lawyers organizations, the Commission on Human Rights, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the European Union and, more importantly, a considerable number of grassroots people’s organizations to condemn these attacks on lawyers and human rights defenders.
We are mere creatures of imperative, Mr. Tan. We were established in 2007, prompted by a state of necessity arising from the rampant killings of activists during the term of former president Gloria Arroyo.
Like you, we long to see the day when the Supreme Court’s dockets are no longer plagued by our petitions. We strive to become irrelevant and unnecessary in a world where established institutions work efficiently and effectively, by themselves, to promote human rights.
To be rid of us, Mr. Tan, you have to struggle with us to dismantle our imperatives.
By then, we would happily joust with you on the finer points of oral argumentation before the high court, and we could sip fine wine as we debate whether this or that legal maneuver is done for hype or substance.
But the place and time for that is not here and not now.
Because we are being killed out there, Mr. Tan.
NATIONAL UNION OF PEOPLES’ LAWYERS (NUPL) NATIONAL COUNCIL
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