One year ago, on 6 November 2018, members of ASTM were devastated on hearing the tragic news of the assassination of Ben Ramos, the executive director of our partner organization PDG (Peace and Development Group) in the Philippines. 6 November 2018 is a date that will long be remembered by those of us who had the opportunity to meet and get to know Ben over the years. As a human rights lawyer, Ben worked for many years in selfless commitment to help landless peasants and farmworkers in the province of Negros Occidental to organize and claim their right to land and to help them introduce sustainable ways of improving their production. He also provided free legal aid to victims of human rights abuses, many of them peasants engaged in the land struggle, environmentalists and political prisoners who would otherwise have had no access to legal representation.
Ben’s killers are still at large, and in the year since his death, several members of his family and the PDG staff have received very graphic threats to their lives. At the same time, in a climate of growing impunity and with increased military presence, Negros has been hit by an unprecedented spate of brutal killings, some 38 in 2019 alone. The victims are mainly peasant advocates, human rights defenders and local government officials. Human rights organizations have no doubt that this situation is linked to the intensification of the government’s anti-insurgency campaign on the island. Just a few days ago, on 31 October, the offices of several civil society organizations were raided in a joint police and military operation in the city of Bacolod. Nearly 60 people were arrested including 6 youngsters from PDG who were in the city to prepare a cultural presentation for the anniversary of Ben’s murder. However, despite all the continuing threats, vilification, harassment and killings, PDG is determined to continue its work with the local peasant communities and is campaigning for justice for Ben.
On 6 November our thoughts will be with Ben’s family and friends at PDG, remembering him and what he stood for. On that day, ASTM will be joining a number of Belgian groups close to PDG in a demonstration outside the Philippines Embassy in Brussels to denounce the continuing extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, to demand the arrest and fair trial of those responsible and protection for all human rights defenders in the Philippines, including the members of PDG.