Peasant and human rights groups expressed sympathy for the death of Negros-based activist Zara Reboton Alvarez, last August 17. The 39-year-old was shot by two assailants riding-in-tandem, along the street of Sta. Maria, Eroreco Subdivision, Brgy. Mandalagan, Bacolod City, at around 8:00 pm.
She was initially identified as “Sarah Rebuton” by police, as a resident of Cadiz City, Negros Occidental.
Bacolod Police Station 3 chief Major Richard Fajarito said that Alvarez was with two of her housemates that rainy evening, as they both returned from a nearby wet market to purchase food. Nearby residents heard a total of six gunshots, with three presumably pinning her to the ground, and another three to finally kill her.
While her two friends survived after fleeing the scene, Alvarez died immediately after the attack. Her yet to be identified killers fled on a motorcycle through an alleyway, and the community patrolmen arrived too late to save her.
Alvarez’s death came after the murders of the four New People’s Army (NPA) affiliates in Kalayaan, Laguna, and happened in the evening after the burial of peace negotiator Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis in Quezon City. All slayings linked state forces.
Alvarez is survived by her 11-year-old daughter.
A decade of red-tagging
While in Negros, Alvarez worked as a campaign and education director and paralegal for the island’s branch of Karapatan. The island was mired with attacks against activists and farmers even before Oplan Sauron. This is a collaborative effort between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), supposedly aimed to eradicate communist armed conflict among other goals.
She also worked for the Negros Island Health Integrated Program (NIHIP) as an advocacy and research officer, and was formerly affiliated with the island’s Anakbayan and Bayan groups, as well as the North Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates.
Alvarez herself was not spared from these attacks, and had experienced red-tagging as far as 2012.
On October 30, 2012, Alvarez and 42 other human rights defenders (HRDs) were linked to the March 10, 2010 death of the AFP’s own 1Lt. Archie Polenzo. Authorities attempted to charge Alvarez for a “robbery in band” (robbing in a group of four) that happened on July 16, 2011. After being released on bail on July 22, 2014, Alvarez was finally acquitted on March 4, due to lack of evidence.
In an article written by Linda Aguilar, Human Rights Matter (HRM) executive director, Alvarez was in Panay, campaigning with the Makabayan Coalition on the day Polenzo was killed. She was also in Cadiz City with her father and daughter on the day authorities claimed that she committed the aforementioned robbery.
In February, 2018, Alvarez was one of the many who were tagged by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in a prescription case. The said case involved a petition that would brand 600 more who are allegedly affiliated with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA as “terrorists.” The posters also contained a hotline number to PNP Magallon.
In the same year, she was also red-tagged by posters that contained images of her and other activists such as human rights attorney Benjamin Ramos. Ramos was shot dead around November of 2018, after the posters circulated all over Bacolod City.
On July 20, 2019, Alvarez shared on Facebook that the Karapatan National Office received a text from an unknown sender, saying that Alvarez would be killed next and that the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) would all be wiped-out as well.
“Pakisabi ka[y] Alavarez [siy]a yong isusunod, tapos lahat ng NUPL [u]ubusin,” said in the errononeously written text.
Karapatan confirmed that Alvarez was the 13th human rights worker affiliated with the alliance who were killed under Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s time.
In the wake of Alvarez’s death, many Karapatan affiliates offered their condolences. The alliance’s Secretary General Cristina Palabay mentioned that Alvarez’s death was a tremendous loss for their staff, who worked with her in defending human rights and uphold justice.
“We will never relent in pursuing justice for Zara, Ka [Randall Echanis] 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,” as Palabay said.
Karapatan also confirmed that the international human rights community expresses their sympathy regarding the death of Zara Alvarez.
NUPL’s Atty. Edre Olalia believed that this was an attack to silence activists and government-critics.
“It seems vocal and effective human rights defenders, activists and critics are being slayed one after the other with brazenness and audacious impunity. The obvious intent is to sow terror. The grief and rage continues,” Olalia said.
Rev. Gerardo A. Alminaza of the Roman Catholic Bishops of San Carlos recalled how Zara was actively involved in the Church People Workers Solidarity, reminding them of their work of evangelization and social justice bravely the death threats.
“I bleed of this never-ending injustice and violence, someone closest in my work with the oppressed is murdered. I just cannot believe this continuing madness of senseless killings!,” Alminaza said.
College Editor Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) reported that various youth groups launched a traditional candle-lighting protest on August 17. Karapatan added that the international human rights community mourned her passing.
On August 18, a candle-lighting protest was continued by KADAMAY Group. The League of Filipino Students (LFS) also joined the activity and held an online rally on Twitter.
On August 19, in observance of Global Day of Action of Justice, various progressive groups, including Kabataan Partylist, and individuals staged a protest and gathered at Bantayog ng mga Bayani to express their solidarity in condemning the attacks and seeking justice for the slain activists.
According to the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), as they expressed also their sympathy, the numbers of threats and attacks against human right defenders cases continuously arises after passing “Anti-Terrorism Law” last month. [P]
Photo from Radyo Bandera – Bacolod 109.3 FM