Human rights defenders seek Supreme Court protection after Zara Alvarez killing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 1) — It is too late for Zara Alvarez, but her fellow human rights defenders hope the protection she was deprived of would be given to them now, the group Karapatan told the Supreme Court on Tuesday. 

Alvarez, community health worker and paralegal for Karapatan, was among the supposed witnesses in the group’s petition for writ of amparo and habeas data – a bid to protect them from what they call state-sponsored red-tagging that put their lives and liberty at risk.

However, the Court of Appeals dismissed the case in June without hearing witness testimonies. Two months later, Alvarez died of multiple gunshot wounds from an unidentified assailant while on her way home in Bacolod City. She was 39.

“Alvarez’s untimely demise is precisely what petitioners sought to prevent by coming to court,” Karapatan said in a 12-page manifestation filed at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“Nevertheless, they continue to hope that the protection she was never given be extended to them — especially at a time when the promotion and defense of human rights is susceptible to being wrongfully interpreted, suppressed and punished by the State as terrorism,” the petitioners added.

They argued that Alvarez’s killing proves that being tagged as a communist rebel or terrorist is an “actual threat” – contrary to the Court of Appeals’ ruling that “there was no evidence that the alleged killings and disappearances are on account of the victims’ membership in organizations tagged as legal fronts.”

Alvarez had been red-tagged by the military and police since 2004, the human rights watchdog said, until she was detained in 2012 for nine months. The court dismissed her murder charge for lack of evidence.

“I fear that it may happen again or I might be killed like what happened to the many farmers of Negros as well as Tatay Toto and Atty. Ben Ramos,” Alvarez said in her judicial affidavit.

Karapatan said 13 of its human rights workers have been killed under the Duterte administration. A total of 185 human rights defenders and activists died in the government's counterinsurgency program, the group added.

Alvarez, along with slain peace consultants Randy Malayao and Randal Echanis, were also among the 649 individuals whom the government, through the Department of Justice, sought to be proscribed as terrorists for having links to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, New People’s Army. A Manila court later trimmed down the list to just two individuals, while the petition to tag the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group is still pending.

READ: With new law, Court of Appeals to now handle gov’t bid to tag CPP-NPA as a terrorist group – Lacson

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns with the Philippine government over the recent killings of Echanis and Alvarez and called for "independent, thorough and transparent investigations."