State forces complicit in the killing of human rights worker Zara Alvarez — Karapatan

Human rights alliance Karapatan asserted that State forces are “complicit, if not directly behind” the killing of human rights and health worker Zara Alvarez, as Karapatan joined other human rights advocates, progressive formations, and civil libertarians in today’s Global Day of Action for Justice today at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani to condemn the killings of Alvarez, peace advocate and land defender Randall Echanis, Louie Tagapia, and all cases of extrajudicial killings.

“Zara has long been a target of military, police, and judicial harassment for her tireless and dedicated work in defending people’s rights. She had already been imprisoned for nearly two years for a now-dismissed murder charge from the military — and all of the threats that she had received were from State security forces. All fingers point to them as the perpetrators of this senseless, cold-blooded killing, which is unsurprising for a fascist regime that is strongly averse to the idea of upholding and defending human rights, and is actively and proudly engaged in violating human rights,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Karapatan also commemorated its 25th founding anniversary today. Palabay said that “mourning of the deaths of our colleagues as we face our 25th year is an indignant reminder that the struggle to advance and defend people’s rights is far from over. Karapatan has pulled no punches in calling out the human rights violations of this murderous administration — and for it, we have been repeatedly vilified and singled out as targets of State violence by none other than President Rodrigo Duterte himself. These threats from the highest echelons of State bureaucracy have murdered not only Zara but twelve more of our human rights workers and hundreds of our colleagues and comrades.”

Alvarez and fellow Karapatan human rights worker Ryan Hubilla — who was gunned down in Sorsogon along with human rights worker Nelly Bagasala June 15 last year — were supposed to testify on the writs of amparo and habeas data filed by Karapatan, Gabriela, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines before the Court of Appeals about the repeated threats and harassment they have experienced from State forces. They sought legal protection from these threats, with President Duterte and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. as among the respondents. The Court of Appeals had denied the petitions for the writs of amparo and habeas data. The case is pending before the Supreme Court. In July 2019, Esperon filed a retaliatory suit against Karapatan and the two other organisations. 

In 2018, Alvarez along with murdered peace consultants Randy Malayao and Randall Echanis were 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”. She was also included in posters that circulated in Bacolod City that year which red-tagged various activists, organizers, and advocates such as human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who was also similarly shot to death November that year. The police also harassed her by filing complaints against her for distributing rice to impoverished members of her barangay just last April amid the government’s failure to provide adequate aid and relief caused by the lockdowns.

The Karapatan official continued that “not only is the State actively committing human rights violations; its own inaction in protecting human rights defenders, their non-performance of due diligence in investigating these attacks on human rights defenders — all of which are yet to produce credible findings — and in outright junking the plea of human rights defenders for legal protection have allowed for an environment of widespread immunity to thrive and flourish and target human rights workers from Karapatan. The State is clearly complicit in Zara’s death, and we fear she won’t be the last in this killing spree.”

“It is also clear to us that the only way to achieve justice for Zara, for Ka Randy, and for all the victims of extrajudicial killings is to continue our human rights work. For the past 25 years, many of our colleagues have sacrificed their lives in the cause of defending and advancing people’s rights — and we will not let their lives be in vain by allowing the State to sow fear and cower us into silence. We will continue to assert our calls for justice louder and bolder than ever as we fight back against the State’s attacks against us. Fascism will be no match in the face of the people’s solidarity and resistance, and we vow to hold this murderous regime accountable,” she ended.