The killing of “Randy” Echanis and Zara Alvarez put the Philippines under more pressure

August 22, 2020

The Philippines government’s practice of ” red tagging” – i.e.  labelling HRDs as communists or terrorists – has been repeatedy criticised by human rights defenders, NGOs, government and the UN.  “We are saddened and appalled by the ongoing violence and threats against human rights defenders in the Philippines, including the killing of two human rights defenders over the past two weeks,” said Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  Randall “Randy” Echanis, an agrarian reform advocate and peace consultant, was killed in his home in Quezon City, located just outside capital Manila, on 10 August, added the OHCHR spokesperson, noting that reports indicated that he suffered brutal treatment before he died, including blunt force trauma to the head and stab wounds. On 17 August, the day that Mr. Echanis was buried, another long-standing human rights defender, Zara Alvarez, was shot dead in Bacolod City on Negros Island, some 490 kilometres south east of Manila. Investigations into both cases are underway.

According to OHCHR, both Mr. Echanis and Ms. Alvarez had been repeatedly “red-tagged” – labelled as communists or terrorists – in relation to their work. Ms. Alvarez’s name appeared, for example, on a list of 649 people that the Government sought to designate as terrorists on 28 March 2020. “While the list was later truncated, many who were removed from the list, including Ms. Alvarez, continued to report harassment and threats, as highlighted in the High Commissioner’s human rights report on the Philippines published in June this year,” added Ms. Throssell.

Ms. Alvarez’s photo also appeared in a publicly displayed poster purporting to depict terrorists. She was pictured alongside two other human rights defenders who had been killed – Benjamin Ramos Jr. and Bernardino Patigas, both of whose murder cases remain unsolved. She had also spent two years in prison on murder charges before she was acquitted in March for lack of evidence. Following the murder of Ms. Alvarez, her colleague Clarizza Singson, received a death threat on Facebook warning her that she would be next. “This is particularly worrying as Ms. Singson’s name also appeared on the abovementioned list of suspected terrorists and her photo is included in the same poster,” added Ms. Throssell.

We have raised our concerns with the Government and the Commission on Human Rights on these cases, and look forward to continuing to engage with them,” said Ms. Throssell.

Eighty-nine cases involving the deaths of human rights activists from 2017 to 2019 are now being investigated by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an official said Friday. “The data that we have from 2017 to 2019, we have a total of 89, not to include the ones happening now. We call them human rights defenders,” CHR commissioner Leah Armamento said over ABS-CBN News Channel when asked about the number of killings of activists and members of progressive groups being investigated by the commission.

‘The endless killings of activists in the Philippines have become systematic in Duterte’s regime, and demonstrate the continuing impunity in the country. The government should end these killings immediately and take genuine steps towards ensuring justice for victims and their family members,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director at FORUM-ASIA.

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