POOR MAN’S DEFENDER Human rights lawyer Benjamin “Ben” Ramos Jr. (right foreground) devoted his professional life to the farmers and fisherfolk of Negros Occidental who were so poor that they could only pay for his services with fish, bananas and vegetables. (inquirer.net)
One Man’s Opinion
November 16, 2018
BEN, I am sorry I cannot formally bid you goodbye when they lay you to rest.
But I am certain you, of all people, will understand why.
I will be with the families of the 32 journalists who were among the 58 victims of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre, who are no nearer to being given the justice they deserve nine years since they were slaughtered by a power-hungry madman and his minions.
The installation re-creates the massacre, which saw 32 journalists killed in an ambush, with figures crafted from newspapers. The figures form the image that ran on the front page of a newspaper the day after the massacre, which claimed 58 lives in total. Those slain were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan.(Mumbrella Asia)
I am sure you will agree with me – I can already see your lips curling in a wry grin as your eyes narrow in consternation – nine years without justice for such an outrage epitomizes the culture of impunity that has settled over our land, nurtured by a corrupt system and apathetic governance, emboldening those who would impose their will on us not through reason but through brutality and bloodshed.
Yes, each and every moment those responsible for the Ampatuan massacre remained unpunished was a moment that emboldened your killers – both they who pulled the trigger and they who gave the order – just as they emboldened the gunmen who mowed down the nine people, scattering their bodies like newly cut cane in that field in Hacienda Nene, Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City, your lives cruelly snatched away for one reason and one reason alone: because you sought to right what is wrong in the society we live in.
Just as they emboldened those who have murdered countless peasants, indigenous people, lawyers, religious, activists, and, over the past two years and a half, the thousands upon thousands deemed “subhuman” because of – sans proof or fair trial – their supposed involvement in drugs and therefore no longer deserving of life.
It boggles the mind how we never learn the lessons of history or the teachings of the faiths we profess to follow.
How else would it be always so, that those who preach justice and love for brethren, who work to see these become reality, always end up deprived of these very same virtues? How else would it be that the peacemakers are always the ones who never see peace?
How also would it be, that in this nation that boasts of being a democracy, the truth tellers are silenced and the loudest voices belong to those who spout nothing but lies?
How else would it be, that a madman whose default solution to any problem is “kill, kill, kill” captures the imagination of a people buried so deep in desperation by years of misgovernance that they actually mistake his murderous vision as the road to salvation, no matter that their ill-conceived faith has added them to the kill list.
Forgive me Ben if I sound bitter.
Yes, I am equally angry and sad, not only because of what they did to you but also because of the continued vilification you have had to suffer from those whose supposedly sworn duty is to ensure justice for you and your family but who would rather twist the narrative and blame you for your cruel fate.
Just as they did, and continue to do, to the Sagay 9.
But perhaps I am looking at this the wrong way.
Perhaps the real lesson of history is not the inevitability of tyrants continuing to emerge to lay waste to humanity.
Perhaps the real lesson is that despite of this, people refuse to lose hope and continue struggling to build a better world for themselves and for future generations.
Perhaps hope is the victory, although many times it doesn’t feel so and often is too easily snatched from our hands.
Yes, I am sure of that now.
I am certain that going to Mindanao to continue standing in solidarity with the families of the colleagues we lost on that day nine years ago, to continue being part of their struggle, is the real victory, the rebuke against those who believe they can forever get away with what they did, just as I am certain that the turnout of the masses to bid you goodbye, the masses you loved unconditionally and who love and will continue to love you, is the real victory.
Yes, Ben, you have won. In your death, you will continue to inspire and embolden the people to whom you dedicated your life to persevere in their search for a better future, a better world.
Ben Ramos, mabuhi ka kaupod! Kami magapadayon!
(Jose Jaime “Nonoy” Espina is a senior editor at interaksyon.com, the online news portal of the TV5 network and is a director of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. He has been a journalist for more than 30 years, most of these spent in the field.
Among the subjects he has covered in the Philippines are the communist insurgency and related issues of human rights, internal displacement and social justice. He is also deeply involved with the NUJP’s work to advocate press freedom and to advance media protection and safety. )