Commentary  A Statement of Solidarity to Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines

We, the undersigned, wish to express concern and disgust regarding the brazen attacks on human rights defenders in the Philippines. We strongly condemn the recent killing of Attorney Benjamin Ramos, 56, founding member and former Secretary General of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL). On November 6, 2018, he was gunned down by two unidentified gunmen in Negros Occidental, Philippines.

According to the NUPL, Ramos had just finished preparing a legal paper for one of his pro bono clients, which include peasants, workers, environmentalists, activists, political prisoners, and mass organizations, when the shooting took place. He was the co-counsel for the families of nine sugar farm workers slain in Hacienda Nene, Sagay City, Negros Occidental on October 20, 2018. He was also representing six young activists who had been maliciously linked to the New People’s Army and arrested by the military.

Because of his human rights work, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) accused Atty. Ramos of colluding with communist rebels. Ramos is the eighth lawyer killed in the Philippines this year. The other victims are:

  • John Ungab, February 19, 2018 in Ronda, Cebu
  • Henry Joseph Herrera, April 22, 2018, in Atimonan, Quezon
  • Salvador Solima and his wife, July 2, 2018, Cebu City
  • Rafael Atotubo, August 23, 2018, in Bacolod City.
  • Connie del Rio Villamor, 24 September 24, 2018, in Tagum City
  • Wilmer Donasco, September 24, 2018, in Davao City
  • Edel Julio Romero, September 28, 2018, in Iloilo City

Thirty-four lawyers have been killed in the Philippines over the two-year reign of President Duterte, including judges and prosecutors, according to NUPL. These killings of members of the legal community comes in the context of President Duterte’s war on drugs, war on terror, war on women, and war on the poor, which has made thousands of victims.

The killings, smear campaigns, death threats, and harassments against human rights defenders in the Philippines are a clear violation of UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. According to this declaration:

Article 1

Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.

Article 12 (2)

The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.

Lawyers play a crucial role in upholding the fundamental rights of the people. They also protect the pillars of democracy as they facilitate the administration of justice. In the Philippines, human rights lawyers defend the marginalized and the defenseless. To kill a human rights lawyer is an obvious attempt to silence those who speak for the unheard and the voiceless. It is an attempt to deter lawyers and members of the legal profession to fulfill their roles as guardians of justice.

In the context of the intensifying human rights violations committed with impunity in the Philippines, it is timely that we, as members of the legal community in Canada and other concerned organizations, show our solidarity and unwavering support for human rights defenders in the Philippines. We urge the Canadian government to halt funding and cooperation, directly or indirectly, with the AFP, the PNP and other organizations who have been linked to human rights violations in the Philippines. We call on the Philippine government to:

  • Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in the country;
  • Carry out an immediate, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation into the murder of Benjamin Ramos in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law;
  • Put an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in the Philippines, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
  • Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1 and 12.2;
  • Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Philippines.

Sincerely,

  • International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – Canada
  • Association des juristes progressistes, Québec
  • Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers, International Association of People’s Lawyers
  • Nandini Ramanujam, McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism
  • Kirsten Anker, law professor, McGill University
  • Dominique Caouette, Professeur en science politique, Université de Montréal
  • Radha De Souza, law professor, University of Westminster, United Kingdom
  • Gill Boehringer, former Dean, School of Law, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
  • Stuart Russell, lawyer (Ret.), administrative judge (Ret.), law professor (Ret.)
  • May Chiu, avocate, Montréal
  • Hannah Deegan, avocate, Montreal
  • Walter Chi-yan Tom, avocat, Montreal
  • Kate Forrest, avocate, Montreal
  • Diana Sitoianu, avocate, Montréal
  • Mark Phillips, avocat, Montreal
  • Kayle Sykes, avocate, Montreal
  • Andrew E. Cleland, avocat, Montreal
  • Garrett Zehr, lawyer, Toronto
  • Talia Joundi, lawyer, Toronto
  • Justine Blair, stagiaire en droit, Montréal
  • Jeff Li, stagiaire en droit, Montréal
  • Deborah Guterman, student-at-law, Montréal
  • Andra Ioana Muraru, stagiaire en droit, Montréal
  • Andrea Tredenick, LSO candidate, London, Ontario
  • Renz Grospe, Anakbayan Canada, étudiant, École du Barreau du Québec, ancien stagiaire au NUPL
  • Steve Payette, étudiant à la maîtrise en droit, Université de Sherbrooke
  • Delphine Gauthier-Boiteau, étudiante à la maîtrise en droit, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Aïssatou Fall, étudiante en droit, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Chris Albinati, lawyer, PhD Candidate, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
  • Kareem Ibrahim, graduate law student, University of British Columbia
  • Alexander Agnello, law student, McGill University, former law intern at Ateneo Human Rights Center
  • Alicia Blimkie, law student, McGill University, former law intern at Ateneo Human Rights Center
  • Sydney Lang, law student, McGill University
  • Angèle Poupard, law student, McGill University
  • Emilie Duchesne, law student, McGill University
  • Julianna Duholke, law student, McGill University
  • Alessa Dassios, law student, McGill University
  • Megan Lindy, law student, McGill University
  • Kerry Ann Marcotte, law student, McGill University
  • Lily Maya Wang, law student, McGill University
  • Alix Génier, law student, McGill University
  • Jan Nato, law student, McGill University
  • Noémie Ducret, law student, McGill University
  • Adelise Lalande, law student, McGill University
  • Christina Tzovanis Manolias, law student, McGill University
  • Sophie Doyle, law student, McGill University
  • Bayan Canada
  • Anakbayan Canada
  • Migrante Canada
  • Centre d’appui aux Philippines/Centre for Philippine Concerns
  • Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines
  • Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights
  • Kasama McGill
  • Kagawasan Liberation
  • Quebec Public Interest Research Group, McGill University
  • Black Law Students’ Association of McGill
  • Jozef Fleury-Berthiaume, ancien responsable de projet international aux Philippines, ONG Quinoa
  • Séverine de Laveleye : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Marie De Vroey: ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Eric Petitjean : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Fatima Biberian : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Hélène Baquet : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Irene Garlanda : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Damien Charles : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Porzia Stella : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Jeanne Babar : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Pauline Forges : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Camille Roufiange : ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Hélène Debaisieux: Présidente de l’ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Margot Ehrlich-chargee de mission centres sociaux-France
  • Priscilla Claeys: Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University and FIAN-Belgium
  • Véronique Wiame: enseignante, Gourdinne -Belgique
  • Pauline Bourtembourg : Responsable projet international Philippines en 2009 – ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Liza Niemirowski : Responsable projet international Philippines en 2012 – ONG Quinoa – Belgium
  • Simone Cavanaugh: Membre du Conseil jeunesse du Premier Ministre, Canada
  • Milton J. Fernandes, lawyer, Montreal
  • Moses Gashirabake, student-at-law, Montreal