Karapatan honors Jose Jaime “Nonoy” Espina, a fearless human rights champion

“[We should] defend [our rights], or else we are bound to lose them.”

This was one of Jose Jaime “Nonoy” Espina’s messages that manifested his determination in fighting for people’s rights and civil liberties. In the midst of the calls to reject the government’s “terror law” last year, he was asked this question: “What does freedom mean to you?”

He said, “freedom for me is when every individual enjoys equal opportunity for holistic growth and when the State truly protects the rights and liberties of the people.”

On Wednesday night, July 7, Espina died due to liver cancer. His sister and fellow journalist Inday Espina-Varona said he spent his last moments with his family, including his wife and children.

Espina passed away after his fight against liver cancer, but the battle he had against the disease that took his life is not the only fight he had. For decades, he stood firm not only for himself, but for oppressed Filipinos whose rights are violated. He fought for the masses and for media workers whom he loved the most.

With the threats brought by the regime’s Anti-Terrorism Act, a law that will violate Filipinos’ rights and civil liberties, he said that the “terror law” will have its worse effects to “the freedom and expression and of the press.” He emphasized that the new offense “inciting to terrorism” which covers practically anything media workers can say or do is “worrisome.”

Espina lived his life for the people, wasting no moment so that he could use all his time to stand with Filipinos living in the margins, blatantly neglected and abused by the government that should protect them.

He was a victim of several rights violations — his person was publicly vilified, he became at-risk from threats directed by regimes that saw his dissent as something that would force them out of power — but he never cowered in fear. He woke up every day, firmly having the grit to fight not for his own sake, but for all.

He was a courageous fighter who stood firm in the defense of people’s rights. Like what he said: “It’s important to remember that we owe our rights and liberties to nobody — these are ours by birth, but it is also equally important to remember that we have to use these rights and liberties, and most of all, defend them, or else we are bound to lose them.”

Karapatan proudly honors Espina and his relentless dedication to people’s rights and social justice. All of us grieve with his family for this loss of a brave and kind soul, and together with many of his colleagues in the press and the communities he served, we will continue to uphold people’s rights and civil liberties, inspired by the example of Espina and many other freedom fighters in the country.