As of January 2018, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Drug War” has killed over 12,000 people according to the Human Rights Watch. Lawyer Benjamin Ramos was killed on Tuesday, November 6, the 34th lawyer killed under the Duterte administration, which began almost two and a half years ago. It is thought that Mr Ramos was killed because of his opposition towards the Duterte regime, and raises questions about Duterte’s war on drugs: the drug trade may contribute to crime, but can so many unexplained deaths be truly justified?
Mr Ramos was killed by a group of unidentified motorcyclists as he left his office in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, and was later declared dead upon arrival at a local hospital. He was a member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which helped poor clients whose families were often targeted by law enforcement and death squads associated with Duterte’s drug war. “The killing of a human rights lawyer is a new low in the worsening culture of impunity in the Philippines, and yet another blow to the government’s already dismal human rights record,” Ritz Lee Santos III, chairperson for Amnesty International Philippines, has said.
Police are still investigating the case and have said that Mr Ramos had received several death threats before his fatal attack. Despite this, Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s newly instated spokesman and previous Chief Legal Counsel, said blaming the Duterte regime for this attack is “reckless” and “baseless.” It is of note that the other 33 lawyers’ deaths during Duterte’s war on drugs have also not yet been solved. In a speech in August 2017, Duterte instructed law enforcement to shoot individuals like Mr Ramos who were “obstructing justice.”
Duterte’s war on drugs raises both the question of human rights, democracy and the tolerance of violence in the Philippines. It is undeniable that there are more productive ways to remove drugs from the streets apart from homicide: rehabilitation and encouragement for education in trades must be promoted across the countries, to offer lawful means to make a living. All irrational killings must be stopped immediately, and progress should be made to conduct comprehensive investigations. Yet an investigation proposed by the International Criminal Court in February has been met only with distaste from Duterte.
The rising number of unlawful killings will only worsen the Philippine’s poor human rights record.