Karapatan condemns killing of human rights and health worker Zara Alvarez

Zara Alvarez is the 13th human rights worker from Karapatan killed under the Duterte administration, human rights watchdog Karapatan said, as the group slammed “what is beginning to look like a killing spree of human rights defenders, peace advocates, and vocal critics in an attempt to sow terror and cower us into silence, especially now with the Anti-Terrorism Act in place.”

“When will the killings stop? We just buried a peace advocate yesterday and we’re not even through with mourning his death and we now have to grapple with the killing of one of our colleagues! Zara Alvarez was a fierce and dedicated human rights defender, and her death is a tremendous loss for all of us and those who worked with her in advancing and defending people’s rights and we strongly call for justice,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Palabay continued: “That she was gunned down merely a week after Ka Randy Echanis was brutally tortured and murdered — and on the very day he was buried — strongly suggests that these senseless and cold-blooded killings are part of an orchestrated murderous rampage to silence dissent, with human rights defenders as targets and fair game.”

According to news reports, Alvarez, 39, was shot dead around 8 p.m. last night, August 17, at Brgy. Eroreco, Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. She was a teacher, a single mother, and a former campaign and education director and a current paralegal of Karapatan – Negros Island. She is likewise the research and advocacy officer of the Negros Island Health Integrated Program.

She has been at the receiving end of relentless threats, vilification, and harassment from the military. On October 30, 2012, she was arrested and falsely charged by the military with murder along with 42 other activists; she would remain imprisoned until her release on bail on July 22, 2014. Just last March 4 this year, Alvarez was acquitted of the trumped-up murder charge for lack of evidence.

Along with the military’s trumped-up murder charge, Alvarez was also among the at least 600 names included in the Department of Justice’s petition to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as “terrorists” in 2018 along with murdered peace consultants Randy Malayao and Randall Echanis. She was also included in the red-tagging posters that circulated in Bacolod City that year along with other activists, organizers, and advocates such as human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who was also shot to death November that year.

The Karapatan official said that “we also received a death threat against Zara through our public information desk number July last year. The military and police never ceased in harassing her even as she was distributing rice to impoverished members of her barangay just last April amid the mass hunger caused by the lockdowns. We have no doubt that State forces are behind her merciless murder — the latest in a string of killings in Negros ever since Memorandum Order No. 32 was implemented in November 2018.”

“We extend our condolences to Zara’s family and friends, as we and many other colleagues mourn the killing of a beloved human rights and health worker. We will never relent in pursuing justice for Zara, Ka Randy and all victims of extrajudicial killings in calling for an independent probe into these ruthless murders. We will honor Zara’s legacy as a passionate, selfless and dedicated human rights worker, by continuing the struggle for justice and the realization of people’s rights,” Palabay ended.