The Philippine human rights movement is grieving over the killing of yet another activist in Bacolod City. The 39-year-old human rights defender, Zara Alvarez, was gunned down Aug. 17. Alvarez was coordinator in Bacolod City for Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the union of last year's Arthur Svensson Prize winner, France Castro.
Besides being coordinator for ACT, Alvarez was a former campaign and education director and paralegal in Negros. Alvarez was a member of the Council for Health and Development (CHD) board of trustees. She was also the Advocacy Officer of Negros Island Health Integrated Program (NIHIP) for Community Development for many years.
Alvarez was a former political prisoner and was released through bail in 2014. Still, she continued with her work as human rights defender and community health worker. Amid the pandemic, she has been coordinating and conducting relief operations as part of a community health program. This despite repeated threats to her life and safety.
Alvarez worked on numerous cases involving summary killings, illegal arrests, and other human rights violations perpetrated by the police, the military, and para-military forces across Negros Island. She was also among those who arduously documented and exposed the rampant rights violations of Oplan Sauron campaign in 2018 and the killing spree in 2019.
Alvarez was arrested in 2012 and was released on bail in 2014. The trumped up charge against her was recently dismissed. Like slain peace consultants Echanis and Felix Randy Malayao, Alvarez was among the 600 individuals tagged as “terrorists” in the proscription case filed in Manila Regional Trial Court in 2018. Her name and photo appeared in posters in the streets of Negros as one of the alleged ranking officials of the Communist Party of Philippines. Alvarez and many others were stricken off the list in 2019. However, those in the list were still threatened or vilified by alleged state forces.
“Why is the government frightened of activists?” said Alliance of Concerned Teachers secretary general Raymond Basilio. Basilio said Alvares was only being a good citizen who wanted to serve the Filipino people. “She is with the teachers of Bacolod and the whole of Negros in the fight for a living wage, a humane state of teaching, for peace,” Basilio said.
It is obvious that the intent behind Alvarez’s killing is to sow terror. The murder underscore the widespread impunity for killings of leftist activists in the Philippines. The murders of Alvarez and Echanis also show how the government’s new anti-terrorism law can be misused. The Anti-Terrorism Council, the chief enforcer of the law, is empowered to designate individuals as terrorists. The council is composed of officials from the executive department – some of whom belong to agencies long engaged in “red-tagging.”
The Philippines has a long list of leftist activists whom state security forces have extrajudicially executed on the pretext of combatting the country’s communist insurgency. These deaths occur because government and military officials perceive activists like Alvarez and Echanis, who work to uphold or reform the law, as stand-ins for armed insurgents.
This murderous rampage against human rights’ defenders and peacebuilders must stop. The merciless killings, human rights violations, and the worsening climate of impunity under the Duterte administration must end. The government has an obligation to ensure that all activists in the Philippines have the full protection of the law, and not be subject to harassment, attack, and murder.
18 August 2020 PRESS STATEMENT from ACT
Reference: Raymond Basilio, 0917 593 1202
JUSTICE FOR ZARA ALVAREZ! STOP THE KILLINGS!
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines condemn in the strongest terms the cold-blooded and senseless killing of Zara Alvarez—an educator, volunteer ACT Bacolod Coordinator, and human rights worker. She had been harassed, vilified, imprisoned, and now murdered tokhang-style, not too long since state forces wreaked terror in the Negros Island, through the Duterte administration’s Memorandum Order No. 32 of 2018, Oplan Sauron, and Executive Order No. 70 of 2019. Along with the recently effected Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, these measures sought to legitimize the regime’s fascist attacks on ardent human rights defenders like Zara. Zara tirelessly fought alongside fellow teachers for decent salaries and humane working conditions and was instrumental in establishing the local chapter of ACT Region VI Union, while simultaneously volunteering for other humanitarian efforts in Bacolod. Her dedication to serve the disadvantaged in the face of overwhelming adversities reignited the same passion that pushed thousands of teachers to enter the profession, despite the crises-ridden public education system. While the education sector mourns the loss of one beacon of light, our resolve to advance our fight for rights and freedoms under the tyrannical Duterte government remain strong. We will not cower in fear as the Duterte regime unleashes state terrorism against the very people it’s meant to serve. History has shown that fascism will always breed resistance. They may have killed Zara Alvarez, but her principled defiance against all injustices will persist in our continuing fight for the people’s rights and freedoms.
JUSTICE FOR ZARA ALVAREZ! END IMPUNITY NOW!