The police have yet to establish the identity of the assailant of human rights activist Zara Alvarez who was gunned down at Eroreco Subdivision in Barangay Mandalagan, Bacolod City, a year ago.
This is because no witnesses have come out to help the police with the investigation.
On Aug. 17, 2020, Alvarez was headed for her boarding house when she was attacked by a lone gunman. She succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds.
Col. Manuel Placido, city police director, said that it has been a challenge to talk to potential witnesses in the area. Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic situation, some have already transferred residence while others don’t want to be involved, and “we could not force them”, he said.
He said a special investigation task group was created by the police then to look into the case of Alvarez.
They are now in the process of transferring the case to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, whose primary mandate is to investigate criminal cases, he said.
But he stressed that the Bacolod police will still be part of the investigation, since any updates will come from the local police force.
He assured the public that the investigation of the case is still ongoing.
Vincent Parra of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Negros Occidental, investigator of the case, said that no charges were filed by the police for lack of witnesses.
Parra said he had gone to the area to get testimonies from potential witnesses and residents but nobody would say anything, “daw wala sila labot (it’s like they didn’t care). They don’t want to be involved in the case. Indi ka man ka pilit (we can’t force them to cooperate),” he added.
He also went to the barangay hall to check if there were any recorded complaints against Alvarez, but there were none, Parra said.
The result of their moto propio investigation has already been forwarded to the Department of Justice in line with the agency’s Administrative Order No. 35, which created the Inter-Agency Committee on extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons, he said.
Parra said they are waiting for a copy of Alvarez’s death certificate so they can process financial assistance from the CHR national office.
Alvarez, 39, was a teacher, single mother, campaign and education director and paralegal worker of the human rights group Karapatan, and advocacy officer of the Negros Island Health Integrated Program.
Her daughter, who is now 12 years old, was left to the care of her septuagenarian father.
San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said it has been two years since they started to ring the Church bells to call for the killings to stop.
“We rang the bells for Zara Alvarez, to mark one-year since the brutal slay of a brave human rights defender, community health worker, and peace and justice advocate of Negros island. The list of those extrajudicially killed on our island is filled with the selfless, generous, compassionate, hard-working and courageous,” he said.
He said human rights groups are demanding the Duterte government to account for some 40 cases of extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders in the country, carried out from January 2020 to June 2021.
The prelate said, “When we ring the bells to stop the killings, we ring them to remember the dead and console their loved ones. We also ring the bells to prick the conscience of those who kill, those who plot these sinister crimes against their fellow Filipinos.”
The bishop also said that tolling the bells is also ringing out for hope.
“We are a hopeful people. We must reflect on these despotic killings and become the defenders of human rights. We must not be afraid to continue doing what is right. We must grow and expand our ministries to build peace. We must stand in solidarity with the poor and exploited to address the structural and historic injustices that have caused great economic disparity in the Philippines,” he said.
Meanwhile, cause-oriented groups held various activities to remember Alvarez.
On August 15, the Young Negrosanon Artists paid tribute to her through a mural painting along Lacson Street, while the Zara Alvarez Human Rights educational package was also launched the following day.
Candle-lighting and a noise barrage were also held at the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod Tuesday, August 17.*