SIPALAY CITY, Negros Occidental — Paulino Malvez Jr., 78, took a bus at La Castellana town on Saturday and traveled 132 kilometers to Sipalay City.
He arrived at Sipalay after four hours and went into the city gymnasium.
There he stood in front of the coffin of slain human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos Jr. and wept.
“I could not help it. He was so good to us,” he later told the Inquirer in Hiligaynon.
He was among about 700 farmers from various towns in the province who slept on concrete bleachers in the gymnasium as they waited to join the burial of Ramos on Sunday.
Ramos was shot dead on Nov. 6 in front of a convenience store at Kabankalan City in Negros Occidental.
He was the 34th lawyer to be killed under the Duterte administration, according to Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
Ramos was a founding member of NUPL and secretary general of the group’s Negros chapter.
He also cofounded the nonprofit Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group and handled mostly cases of farmers, political prisoners and victims of human rights violations.
His family and colleagues believe big landowners and people who have vilified him as a communist rebel are behind his murder.
“I am here because I want to see him for the last time. If not for Attorney Ben, we would have long been ejected from our land by a big landlord,” Malvez said.
Malvez’s family is among 60 families at Barangay Talaptap in La Castellana who have sought help from Ramos in fighting an ejection suit.
Not just pro bono but ‘abono’
“He told us to fight for our rights because our families have been living on the land for generations. He made us strong and made us understand laws through paralegal training,” Malvez said.
Ramos’ advocacy for farmers and the poor endeared him to many.
“He was not only a pro bono lawyer but an ‘abono’ lawyer,” one of his colleagues in NUPL said, explaining that Ramos not only offered free legal services but also spent his own money in representing his clients.
They held a program on Saturday honoring Ramos.
Farmers remembered Ramos as a lawyer who had no qualms and asked for nothing except for “native coffee without sugar” to go with his Camel cigarettes.
The slain lawyer’s family said he was dedicated to his work but set aside time for them.
“Amid his busy schedule, he made sure he would have time for us. Every time I would come home during semestral breaks, Tatay would clear his schedule for a family outing. But after that, he would catch up on his work again,” Gabrielle Thea, 20, said.
The eldest of three children, Gabrielle learned about her father’s death from a high school classmate.
Aware of threats
“We were aware of the threats but I did not believe he would be killed,” she told the Inquirer.
“It breaks my heart that Ben could not see his two daughters graduate next year,” Ramos’ widow, Clarissa Ramos, said.
“He was the most patient man I knew. He taught me the real meaning of serving the people. He would not let death threats change his mind in fighting injustice,” she said.
She said the family drew strength from the farmers and other clients who came to her husband’s wake.
“We know and feel that we are not the only ones grieving and seeking justice,” she said.
“They could not silence him with threats and bribes so they killed him in the most cowardly fashion — with three bullets,” she said.
Malvez said he was not scared even with the killing of Ramos and continuing threats.
“We will continue to defend our rights because Attorney Ben will always be with us,” he said.
Then he joined a 700-meter procession that took Ramos to the Sipalay City Public Cemetery and buried him there.