Unlikely idols for the young
Last Monday, the Inquirer had two separate stories in one page about two men whose lives were suddenly and tragically ended while they were at a relatively young age and while they were serving in their areas of expertise in hopes of making a gentler, better world for us all.
And last Sunday’s Inquirer featured the efforts of a young artist to make heroes, more than a century removed from the present, come alive and relevant to today’s young generation.
The two present-day martyrs for a cause are human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos Jr., who was gunned down on Nov. 6 in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, and botanist Leonardo Co, who was killed in a rain of 245 bullets from Army soldiers while he and his companions were on research in a Leyte forest on Nov. 15, 2010.
Ramos was a pro bono (and “abono,” too) lawyer for a group of farmers fighting ejection suits and for ownership of land they are tilling. Here are words coming straight from Ramos’ widow, Clarisa:
“On November 6th, 2018, at 10:30 p.m., while taking a break from finishing a motion for one of his clients, my husband was brutally shot three times by unidentified murderers, riding in tandem.
“Ben dedicated his pro bono law practice to representing those who had no one to turn to for legal assistance — the landless and oppressed farmers, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners, and mass organizations in Negros island. And he did this with no thought toward monetary gain.
“But he was not just a lawyer and a community organizer, he was, more importantly, a loving husband and a doting father to our three children. He taught them that those who did bad should be given a chance to change their ways for the better.
“We were partners in all things. He helped me with the kids’ homework. I helped him with community organizing.
“We had one soul, one advocacy: to help the marginalized people in our island organize themselves so they could lead the way towards change, to defend the human rights of those who had no one to fight for them.
“And now those three bullets have taken his life and ripped apart our dreams and our community.
“Who will now defend the defenseless? Who will now demand justice amidst all the injustice around us? Who will now help me raise my children?
“I call on the authorities and the government to find his killers and bring them to justice. I demand justice for my husband, Ben Ramos.”
Ramos was the 34th lawyer killed under the Duterte presidency, according to an officer of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers of which Ramos was a founding member and secretary general of the group’s Negros chapter. He was the founder of Paghidaet sa Kauswagan Development Group, which helped farmers and victims of human rights abuses.
I did write a Sunday Inquirer Magazine cover story on Co (“A Glimpse of Paradise Lost”) for Earth Day 2011. I wrote then:
“He knew the wilderness and its many secrets. Each leaf, each stem, each trunk spoke to him in ways ordinary humans might not hear. He hearkened to them and gave them names. From under the huge canopy of green that was his second home, he would emerge, carrying with him evidence of rare and amazing life. He had glimpsed paradise. The world, he thought, needed to know about the treasures hidden in these endangered vastness.”
The young need to know about such recently departed Filipinos, they who were into advocacies not totally unfamiliar, they who took the path less traveled. And while at it, I cannot help but also remember young barrio doctor Dreyfuss “Toto” Perlas, who was murdered in Lanao del Norte last year.
Oh yes, we always do need another hero, contrary to what a song proclaims. Not the kind with superpowers seen on television and movie screens, but flesh-and-blood humans who walked this earth and served those left on the wayside, those left behind, the voiceless, nameless, faceless.
Oh, but we need them alive for a long time, if that is possible, they whose passion the young of this generation could emulate if not surpass.
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