Zara Alvarez: Philippines Political Prisoner Struggling for Justice

zara-alvarezFilipina human rights defender Zara Alvarez has been imprisoned for over one year in Philippine prisons. There is a growing Filipino and international movement for her freedom.

Alvarez, 32 years old, is a teacher by profession and a human rights and political activist. She was arrested on October 30, 2012 in her hometown, Cadiz City. To date she is still detained on trumped-up charges of murder and robbery in band in an attempt to silence her and dozens of other human rights advocates in the Philippines.

Alvarez was the chair and national council member of ANAK BAYAN-Negros, a progressive youth organization, and a deputy general secretary of the umbrella organization BAYAN-Negros. She also was the campaign and education director for the human rights organization KARAPATAN-Negros.

A campaign for Alvarez’ release has been developed and has a petition (click here to sign) and a Facebook page. Activists report that this arrest is part of a campaign of arrests targeting leftist and progressive activists in the Philippines, many of whom are arrested on “John or Jane Doe” warrants – like Alvarez – and their names added later to the charges. Alvarez is being supported by defenders of human rights in the Philippines around the world, who report that this arrest campaign is part of the counter-insurgency plan of the Philippines government, being conducted in cooperation with the U.S.

Download Zara Alvarez’ letter to Philippines President | Article on the Alvarez case by Hannah Wolf and Maike Grabowski

Alvarez issued the following letter from prison in January 2013:

Dear friends,

Greetings of Peace and Solidarity! I was once declared as a persona non grata, and now as murderer by the same perpetrators and agents of the state through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). And I am incarcerated with the objective to silence me, to cripple me in espousing Human Rights.

Thirteen years ago, I was just an ordinary College student who was confined at the four walled classroom, listening dutifully to what my professors were explaining, aiming high grades. But things changed when I began to asks questions, when I became restless.

It was in 2000 when a church worker invited me to a fact-finding mission in a seaside community. I started to ask the five W’s and one H (what, when, where, why, who and how) directly to the people in the said community. I wondered why, despite the rich natural resources, the majority of the Filipinos remained poor. And a lot of questions followed.

I became discontented to the learning I gained from the books and from the four walls of our university. I started to look around, seeking for the answers to some of my questions. Despite being a college student, I gave time to live with the farmers, to stay in the picket line with the workers, join the rallies and fact finding missions. I organized my fellow youth and students in order to collectively voice out and bring our demands to the authorities. We shouted for a scientific, mass oriented and free education and not for a commercialized, repressive and colonial system of education. And in doing so, I found the answers from the different sectors in our society.

I am very grateful to our university for being open to the issues that affected our daily lives. We were allowed to conduct forums and symposiums especially during the time when the campaign for Estrada’s ouster was in its peak. I devoted myself to Anakbayan, the comprehensive youth organization, after graduating from college and passing the Licensure Examination for Teacher. I was elected as the Secretary General of the said organization, served as the voice of the said youth group and later became the Chairperson in the whole Negros Island. I was also a member of the National Council of the said group.

I also tried to reach out to the student writers through the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) wherein I served as the coordinator in Negros. I believed in the cause of the Progressive Partylists like the KABATAAN party, GABRIELA Women’s party, Act Teachers Partylist, ANAKPAWIS, Bayan Muna. That’s why during campaign periods, I am one of their machineries.

Later, I was appointed as the Deputy Secretary General of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Negros and at the same time as Campaign and Education Officer of KARAPATAN-Negros. I helped in the facilitation of Fact Finding Missions, in documenting cases of Human Rights Violations and in bringing the voices of the victims through dialogs, negotiations and even in tri-media; in radio, print and television.

It was then that I became a target of their vilification campaign of the state through the Oplan Bantay Laya of the now defunct regime of GMA. In this campaign, I was demonized, tagged and openly linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) along with some leaders of the progressive and militant organizations, through their radio programs, forums and symposiums. Even the AFP assigned in one community in the countryside where human right violations were alarming instigated the Barangay officials to file a resolution declaring me, along with Felipe Levy Gelle Jr., former Sec. Gen. of BAYAN-Negros and Fred Caña of KARAPATAN-Negros, as persona non grata.

These actions permitted the agent of the state to make us their legitimate target even up to this present administration. But these systematic campaigns of the State strengthened me more in advocating the interest of the people and letting their voices be heard. I still continued facilitating fact finding missions, in documenting cases of human rights violations here in Northern Negros Occidental where cases of human rights violations are rampant and alarming. I am currently a staff in Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA) a human rights organization here in Northern Negros Occidental and an affiliate of KARAPATAN.

I believe that this is the reason why I am being incarcerated, being put behind bars. I was implicated to the death of Lt. Archie Polenzo last March 07, 2010 at Sitio Aluyan, Cadiz City. My name was only added last July 31, 2012 after the AFP resurrected a witness under their care. The warrant of arrest served to me by more than 30 fully armed men, a composite of 62nd IB and Special Action Forces (SAF) under the command of Lt. Col. Efren Morados, last October 30, 2012 when I was about to load a tricycle in our terminal in Cadiz City Public Market.

The latter action of the AFP here in Negros is a clear manifestation of its desperation to meet the deadline of the last year of Phase 1 implementation of Aquino’s counter insurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan. Already under the Oplan Bantay Laya days of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo civilians, and especially members and leaders of progressive organizations became the AFP’s main target and faced trumped-up charges to harass and intimidate them. Under the Aquino administration many of us activists here in Negros, have likewise been targeted in the course of an alarming resurgence of John Does arrests warrants.

But still I am fortunate enough even though I am currently languishing in jail, because my families and friends are not among those families who are still searching every corner for their missing loved ones who became a victim of enforced disappearance. And that my families and friends can still create new and wonderful memories with me for I don’t belong to thousands of victims of extra judicial killings. But I will be one with the families and friends of the victims of human rights violations in seeking for justice. My fellow inmate told me, you are helping others when you were outside the prison, but now you can’t help yourself because you are confined here. Yes it’s true, everything here is limited, controlled and you are bound to their policies. What happened to me and the many other newly incarcerated political activists is a warning for everybody, that if you will stand for your rights, talk about the plight of the farmers and workers, about human rights and human rights violations, you will face the same fate we are having now.

Still, one voice is a noise, but more voices is a voice of freedom, soon we realize, everybody are singing the song of the people, taking a stand to end political persecution and demanding justice to all victims of human rights violations. Time will come that no amount of fear can stop us in cultivating everybody’s freedom.


Zara Alvarez