Court convicts soldiers for 2010 murder of Bayan Muna coordinator Ben Bayles

Two enlisted Philippine Army personnel were convicted for the June 2010 murder of Negros Occidental Bayan Muna Party coordinator Benjamin Bayless in June 2010.

In a March 31, 2022 decision, Acting Presiding Judge Ana Celeste P. Bernad of Branch 42 of the Bacolod City Regional Trial Court found Rafael C. Cordova and Reygine G. Laus guilty for the murder of Bayles in Himamaylan City.

“From the entirety of the testimonial and documentary evidence proffered by the prosecution, this Coutt is of the considered view that the prosecution was able to establish the guilt of the accused by the quantum of proof sufficient to produce a moral certainty that would convince the conscience of those who are to act in judgement,” Judge Bernad’s decision reads.

In addition to life imprisonment (reclusion perpetua), the Court also ordered the convicts to pay Bayles’ heirs a total of Php300,000 as civil indemnity, moral damages and exemplary damages.

The convicts were tried as Roger Bajon and Ronnie Caurino, respectively, names they gave the Himamaylan Police when arrested after the shooting.

The soldiers were wearing helmets onboard a black Honda TMX motorcycle with no license plates when arrested by the police who were alerted by a witness to the shooting.

The police also confiscated two unlicensed .45 caliber handguns with live bullets from Cordova and Laus.

During a hearing in April 2013, then 61st Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col Ricardo B. Bayhon identified the two murderers as military enlisted men.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia welcomed the conviction, crediting the victory to lawyer Benjamin Ramos who acted as one of the private prosecutors in the case.

Ramos was himself assassinated in November 2018.

“This is for you, Ben Bayles and Ben Ramos, the latter who was with us to see this through before he himself was killed in 2018,” Olalia said in a statement.

“This is a clear message and warning to those who think there is immunity for impunity,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Human rights lawyer killed, groups condemn killings and harassments

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) condemned the killing of one of its officers in Kabankalan City Tuesday night, November 6.

Atty. Benjamin Ramos, secretary general of NUPL-Negros Occidental Chapter died from four gunshot wounds fired by two motorcycle riding men.

“We are shocked, devastated and enraged at the premeditated cold-blooded murder of our colleague and fellow people’s lawyer, Atty. Benjamin Tarug Ramos, our Secretary General for the NUPL Negros Occidental Chapter,” the NUPL said in a statement.

Ramos was taking a break by a store in Barangay 5, near the public plaza of Kabankalan City, 103 kilometers south of the provincial capital Bacolod City, when shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen around 10:20 pm, Clarizza Singson of human rights group Karapatan said, quoting the victim’s wife, Clarissa.

Singson said Ramos was rushed to a hospital but was already dead from four gunshot wounds, three in the front and one in the back.

“Ben is the 34th lawyer killed under the two-year administration of President [Rodrigo] Duterte. Excluding judges and prosecutors, he is the 24th member of the profession killed and the eigth in the Visayas,” NUPL said.

Ramos was also the lawyer for six young activists accused and arrested of being New People’s Army fighters last year in Mabinay town in neighboring Negros Oriental.

The father of three was also a peasant advocate and had founded the farmers’ organization Paghiliusa Development Group.

“These beastly attacks by treacherous cowards cannot go on. Not a few of our members have been attacked and killed before while literally practicing their profession and advocacies in the courts, in rallies, in picket lines, in urban poor communities, and in fact-finding missions,” the NUPL said.

NUPL said Ramos was earlier “maliciously and irresponsibly tagged” in a public poster by the Philippine National Police as among the so-called personalities of the underground armed movement.

Ramos’ co-counsel for the Sagay massacre victims and survivors, Atty Katherin Panguban, was charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention reportedly filed by Vic Pedaso, biological father of “Lester”, a 14-year old witness-survivor of the Sagay massacre.

Human rights group Karapatan strongly condemned against Panguban, NUPL Women and Children’s Committee Head.

“These charges, which we can only presume to have been wildly concocted by the Negros police and other forces who want to divert the accountability of paramilitary forces and private armies of landlords, have no legal and factual basis, and are ill-intentioned and manufactured. It is lamentable that they have been using Mr. Pedaso to peddle and insist on lies regarding the roles of Atty. Panguban, NUPL and Karapatan in the case,” Karapatan said in a separate statement.

Karapatan said their group and the NUPL merely assisted Lester’s mother in obtaining custody of her child from the Sagay City Social Welfare and Development Office last October 25.

“The turn-over of custody was duly documented and Pedaso was present in the said turn-over, Karapatan said, adding Panguban represented Lester’s mother.

“There is absolutely no truth to allegations of Pedaso and the police that mother and son are being held against their will by Atty. Panguban, NUPL and Karapatan,” the group said.

Karapatan explained that the charges against Atty. Panguban are among the forms of intimidation by state forces against people’s lawyers.

“This incident once again exposes the vile intent of the police to go to great lengths to exploit relatives of victims and survivors and to use them for their slanted narratives,” Karapatan said, adding the charges against Atty. Panguban should be withdrawn or dropped immediately. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)