Human rights activists shot dead in central Philippines

A human rights activists was killed in central Philippines. Zara Alvarez, former education director of the human rights alliance Karapatan, died on the spot after being shot six times on Monday evening as she was heading home after buying food for dinner.

Alvarez was the 13th member of the organisation killed since mid-2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte came to power.

A week earlier, unidentified assailants killed peasant leader Randall Echanis, 72, inside his home in Quezon City, in Metro Manila.

Alvarez and Echanis shared similar backgrounds, both worked in the grassroots for and often became target of political harassment.

Alvarez was a prominent activist associated with the Negros Island Health Integrated Program and the human rights coalition Karapatan. Her work was largely concentrated in the agricultural belt of the Negros island, which has witnessed some of the most violent attacks on trade unionists and activists since Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2017.

Alvarez was previously held in custody by the Philippines National Police over unsubstantiated charges of being a militant associated with the insurgent Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

She was also among the more than 600 people named in an official terror list by the Duterte administration in 2018, which was widely condemned as an act of vilifying activists. The list was heavily amended to only include two names after a court order.

Police said Alvarez was killed by an unidentified assailant in the central city of Bacolod. Witnesses reportedly chased the attacker, who got away with the help of an accomplice on a motorcycle.

On Wednesday, government investigators promised to investigate the case, adding that they are looking into the victim’s affiliation with alleged “leftist groups” as a possible lead for the attack.

Alvarez’s death comes just weeks after Duterte signed into law controversial anti-terror legislation, which allows for warrantless arrests and longer detentions without charge – provisions that legal experts warned could be directed at anyone criticising the president.