A human rights leader has been killed in the central Philippines in what observers and rights defenders have said is a continuing escalation of the “war against dissent” under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
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. She was the 13th member of the organisation killed since mid-2016, when Duterte came to power, the group said.
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.
Karapatan’s national leader, Cristina Palabay, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that given the circumstances of Alvarez’s murder, she is blaming the government.
“Considering the prior threats that they received from state forces, it is not really far from our mind that those who killed them are from the state forces,” she said, adding that Alvarez was among those listed by Duterte’s justice department as suspected “terrorists”.
Palabay pointed out that with the Coronavirus pandemic, cities have imposed curfews and set up checkpoints in their respective areas.
“Everything is on lockdown, isn’t it? The streets are very much guarded by state forces with all the checkpoints. And yet, the killers were able to get through these cordons of state forces,” she said.