Zara Alvarez, human rights worker, mother

Aug. 23, 2020

Here I am, writing another piece about a mother. Here I am, writing about the murder of a female human rights activist who was repeatedly threatened and harassed. Here we are mourning the death of another selfless woman who, despite being unjustly incarcerated for almost two years, chose to continue seeking justice for others.

I don’t personally know Zara Alvarez. I do not have to because she is like a close friend. I know her kind. Activists who would go out to the streets to distribute rice to impoverished members of her barangay, bravely calling for medical assistance and socio-economic support for farmers while everyone else is afraid to go out. Despite the pandemic, they would risk their lives to speak for the most vulnerable sectors. Despite the threats, they would continue exposing fertilizer scams and opposing anti-poor laws. Despite the danger of being red-tagged, they would join fact-finding missions to expose the truth behind peasant killings.

I know her kind, activists who are regularly called “mga salot ng lipunan” for organizing rallies. Oblivious to the fact that behind every placard is an individual who chose to live a simple life in order to be with the masses. Women like her often skip meals in order to finish a press release, join relief operations or organize a public forum. Behind that megaphone is a mother, who was separated from her 3-year-old daughter because of trumped-up charges. Zara was shot on her way to her boarding house in Bacolod City. She leaves behind an 11-year-old child.

Women like Zara draw strength from the masses. “From Canlaon to Manjuyod, Sta. Catalina, Sagay, Escalante, Kabankalan, and Bacolod—wherever farmers, peasant leaders, and rights advocates were imprisoned or killed—Zara was there to help the victims and their families get through the hardships brought by state-sponsored terror,” National Union of People’s Lawyers-Panay said. Because of these initiatives, she was included in red-tagging posters that circulated in Bacolod City. The same posters that red-tagged activists and human rights lawyers like Benjamin Ramos, Randall Echanis, and Randy Malayao. All of them, like Zara, were brutally killed.

Zara was shot six times on a Monday evening by an unidentified assailant. She performed crucial roles in documenting the human rights abuses and peasant killings in Negros. Duterte’s counter-insurgency program implemented through Executive Order No. 70 and Memorandum Order No. 32, has been targeting innocent farmers and women, even minors. In fact, a few days after Zara’s death, three minors were arrested in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental.

With the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Law, the government seeks to sow terror among dissenters. The autopsy of Randall Echanis, the 72-year-old peasant leader and peace consultant, reveals 40 stabs and multiple head injuries. On the day of his burial, Zara was killed.

It is normal to feel threatened. She has been speaking against the anti-terrorism law, the atrocities committed by state forces during this months-long lockdown, and the curtailment of press freedom. The pandemic has pushed us to our limits, and at times, numbing our senses has been crucial for survival. We must not, however, become desensitized to violence. The death of Zara Alvarez must puncture us and bring us back to our senses.

She spoke against oppression, abuse, and peasant killings. She worked and fought with the marginalized and the landless. She dedicated her life pushing for genuine agrarian reform and denouncing rights abuses by government troops. We can only honor her memory by continuing the struggle for justice and the realization of people’s rights. We can only truly honor her memory by fighting for her vision as a mother, human rights worker, and peasant advocate. She believed in the struggle for a society that respects human rights, where people will no longer be powerless against private and foreign monopoly capitalists who plunder the country’s economy. (

Rae Rival writes and does volunteer work for Gantala Press and Rural Women Advocates. She is a teacher and a mother. Her stories, poems and essays have appeared in CNN Philippines, Rappler, Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine (Hong Kong), Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, university presses and do-it-yourself zines.

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