Justice for Atty Ben! Hands off Development Workers!

November 6, 2019

by MASIPAG National Office

November 6 – One year after the murder of peoples’ lawyer Atty Ben Ramos, blood continues to spill in Negros. Atty Ben was a farmers’ rights advocate who served as a member of the MASIPAG Board of Trustees from 1998-2016. During his time, he helped developed MASIPAG’s farmer-led policies promoting farmer empowerment and social justice. As the Executive Director of NGO Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group or PDG, Atty Ben was a ‘tireless champion’ of poor farmers and farm workers in Negros locked in legal struggle with the big landlords. Along with PDG, Atty Ben also supported the livelihoods of the poor farmers as they practice sustainable agriculture and push for a genuine agrarian reform.

Justice remains elusive for Atty Ben and for the 90 and more farmers, youth, church workers and even local government officials who were killed in Negros alone under the Duterte administration. Development workers and human rights defenders in Negros and in many other communities in the Philippines are under relentless attacks: just recently, 57 workers, women and youth leaders were simultaneously arrested in Bacolod City, followed by at least 5 more arrests in Metro Manila. Vilification of legal and legitimate civil society and peoples’ organizations likewise continue, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ and the Dept. of National Defense’s recent red-tagging of 18 NGOs, peoples’ organizations and even elected partylist group during a committee hearing in the House of Representatives.

MASIPAG strongly condemns the senseless and baseless attacks on development workers and the continued repression and silencing of dissent carried out by the state’s forces. Under the undeclared Martial Law, democratic rights are being grossly violated and state-sponsored violence has become the rule of law.

Like Atty Ben, John Milton ‘Butch’ Lozande and the Negros 57, Cora Agovida and husband and numerous others are development workers advocating for peace and economic and social change. They lobby and engage for policies and implement programs that ensure sufficient food and decent livelihoods so that they can live a life with security and dignity. However, the Duterte administration, like those before it, continues to perpetrate exploitative and anti-people programs such as the rice liberalization, massive land use conversion, and anti-poor policies such as the TRAIN law that exacerbate inequality, poverty, hunger and environmental destruction. Widespread deadly militarization such as Martial Law in Mindanao, Memorandum Order No. 32, the Whole of Nation Approach are being enacted to protect the interests of the big businesses and corporations and repress those who dare speak out and resist. Civil society and non-government organizations are also threatened with the Securities and Exchange Commission Memorandum 15 that violates rights to privacy and freedom of association, among others.

Development workers and activists are not terrorists, nor threats to national security. In this crucial time when the Filipino people is faced with rice crisis and food insecurity, attacking the very sector that upholds the peoples’ rights to development not only weakens but blatantly abandons the nation’s thrust for genuine and people-centered economic and social development.

As we commemorate Atty Ben’s death anniversary, we are reminded of his commitment and sacrifice in serving the poor and exploited. Standing with the marginalized sector entails courage and resilience even in the face of attacks. May we all draw inspiration and strength from Atty Ben’s legacy as we continue to resist tyranny and call for justice for all the victims of state repression and extra-judicial killings.#