Who Will Defend The Defenders?

Zara Alvarez died on the spot after being shot six times on August 17 as she was heading home after buying food for dinner.

Alvarez, a mother of one, was the former education director of the Philippine human rights alliance, Karapatan. She is also an advocacy officer for Negros Island Health Integrated Program (NIHIP). She is the 13th Karapatan member killed since mid-2016.

A week earlier, Randall “Randy” Echanis, 72, together with Louie Tagapia, was found dead inside his home. He suffered multiple stab wounds and two gunshots to his head.

Echanis was chair of Anakpawis and a National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant. Fondly called “Tatang” by his colleagues, Echanis is known for leading causes for agrarian reform. He is credited for his work in helping draft the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).

PH Terror Law and war against dissent


Zara Alvarez, a church worker from Negros province in the central Philippines, signs a manifesto signifying her commitment to work for human rights on Aug. 22, 2019. Alvarez was shot dead in Bacolod City on Aug. 17, 2020. (Photo: Mark Saludes)

Individually, they are stories of courage and tragedy. Together, they tell a tale of the “war against dissent” under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The victims shared similar backgrounds. They were both land and human rights defenders. They both worked in activist organizations and had also been subjected to “red-tagging” – a label that often results in harassment or death.

Both murders underscore the widespread impunity for extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. It also shows how the government’s new anti-terrorism law can be misused and used against any and all dissenters.

The Anti-Terrorism Council, the chief enforcer of the law, has the power to designate individuals as terrorists. This council is believed to be composed of some officials who are known for actively engaging in “red-tagging” certain individuals.

Climate crisis and threats against defenders


Defending Tomorrow: The climate crisis and threats against land and environmental defenders (pdf). Image: Global Witness

In 2019, the independent watchdog Global Witness named Philippines as the most dangerous country in Asia for land and environmental defenders. That year alone, 43 Filipino defenders were murdered.

According to Global Witness, 212 defenders were killed in 2019. Over half of reported killings occurred in just two countries: Colombia and the Philippines. On average, four defenders have been killed every week since December 2015 – the month the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

According to a comprehensive analysis by researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona which was released in June 2020, environmental activists have for years faced high rates of criminalization, physical violence, and extrajudicial killings for their efforts to protect the planet.

The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, found that 20 percent of environmental defenders faced criminal charges or were imprisoned, 18 percent were victims of physical violence, and 13 percent were killed between 2011 and 2019.

Who will defend the defenders?

It is the government’s duty, under international law, to guarantee that defenders’ human rights are protected and that they can carry out their activism safely and without fear of retaliation and violence.


Photo: Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Twitter @kmp_phl)

But in the face of state-sponsored attacks and violence, we, the people, should unite and work collectively to safeguard human rights and freedom of expression.

As leaders and members of global communities, we have an obligation to raise awareness, urge governments to uphold defenders’ rights, and publicly condemn any threats against them and their communities. We should continue to act in support of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, including the right to a safe climate.

A tribute to fallen heroes

I would like to dedicate this space to the 185* defenders who were killed under Duterte administration. Let us remember their names and celebrate their activism by taking a stand to protect life, land, environment and human rights.

  1. Randall “Randy” Echanis
  2. Zara Alvarez
  3. Remar Mayantao
  4. Rogen Suminao
  5. Senon Nacaytuna
  6. Hermi Alegre
  7. Jerry Layola
  8. Jimmy Barosa
  9. Jessybel Sanchez
  10. Gaudencio Bagalay
  11. Emerenciana Dela Rosa
  12. Violeta De Leon
  13. Eligio Barbado
  14. Ariel Diaz
  15. Jimmy Saypan
  16. Joselito Pasaporte
  17. Ramelito Sr. Libria
  18. Jimmy Sotto
  19. Venie Diamante
  20. Alexander Ceballos
  21. Veronico Delamente
  22. Wencislao Pacquiao
  23. Renato Anglao
  24. Matanem Pocuan
  25. Glenn Ramos
  26. Emelito Rotimas
  27. Orlando Eslana
  28. Edweno Catog
  29. Willerme Agorde
  30. Gilbert Bancat
  31. Leonila Pesadilla
  32. Ramon Pesadilla
  33. Billamin Hasan
  34. Pedro Pandagay
  35. Virgilio Balungag
  36. Arman Almonicar
  37. Arlene Almonicar
  38. Cora Lina
  39. Danilo Nadal
  40. Elias Pureza
  41. Bernardo Ripdos
  42. Lolita Pepito
  43. Federico Plaza
  44. Rodolfo Jr. Dagahuya
  45. Daniol Lasib
  46. Ana Marie Aumada
  47. Jessie Cabeza
  48. Lito Casalla
  49. Joseph Baning
  50. Ande Latuan
  51. Meliton Catampungan
  52. Carolina Arado
  53. Silvestre Maratas
  54. Mario Castro
  55. Alberto Tecson
  56. Eddie Alyawan
  57. Rer Timboco
  58. Lomer Gerodias
  59. Oscar Jr. Asildo
  60. Jezreel Arrabis
  61. Dalia Arrabis
  62. Obello Bay-ao
  63. Luardo Yac
  64. Erning Aykid
  65. Reneboy Magayano
  66. Edwin Pura
  67. Arnel Otacan
  68. Webby Sr. Argabio
  69. Perfecto Hoyle
  70. Vivencio Sahay
  71. Apolonio Maranan
  72. Elisa Badayos
  73. Eleuterio Moises
  74. Rodrigo Timoteo
  75. Rolando Moreno
  76. Datu Victor Sr. Danyan
  77. Victor Jr. Danyan
  78. Artemio Danyan
  79. Pato Celarbo
  80. Samuel Angkoy
  81. To Diamante
  82. Mateng Bantal
  83. Rhudy Danyan
  84. Fr. Marcelito Paez
  85. Bernardo Clarion
  86. Jennierose Porras
  87. Edwin Magallanes
  88. Flora Jemola
  89. Aaron Notarte
  90. James Flores
  91. Aniceto Jr. Lopez
  92. Ricky Olado
  93. Ronald Manlanat
  94. Ricardo Mayumi
  95. Emelda Sangquina
  96. Agudo Quillio
  97. Garito Malibato
  98. Jerry Turga
  99. Ariel Maquiran
  100. Carlito Sawad
  101. Beverly Geronimo
  102. Lando Perdicos
  103. JoseUnahan
  104. Nestor Sacote
  105. Arnel Penaso
  106. Julius Barellano
  107. Menyo Yandong
  108. Rolly Panebio
  109. Gilbert Plabial
  110. Jean Plabial
  111. Mariam Acob
  112. Jaime Delos Santos
  113. Victor Villafranca
  114. Cesar Carreon
  115. Rene Laurencio
  116. Morena Mendoza
  117. Marcelina Dumaguit
  118. Angelife Arsenal
  119. Eglicerio Villegas
  120. Paterno Baron
  121. Rannel Bantigue
  122. Danilo Bautista
  123. Benjamin Ramos
  124. Esteban Sr. Empong
  125. Rommel Romon
  126. Linus Cubol
  127. Jesus Isugan
  128. Reneboy Fat
  129. Constancio Languita
  130. Jun Cubul
  131. Jaime Revilla
  132. Demetrio Fat
  133. Nicasio Ebio
  134. Remegio Arquillos
  135. Emel Tejero
  136. Randel Gallego
  137. Sergio Jr. Atay
  138. Randy Felix Jr. Malayao
  139. Emelda Torralba
  140. Roberto Mejia
  141. Sanito Delubio
  142. James Vinas
  143. Jerome Pangadas
  144. Larry Sr. Suganob
  145. Steve Arapoc
  146. Edgardo Avelino
  147. Ismael Avelino
  148. Franklin Lariosa
  149. Bernardino Patigas
  150. Dennis Españo
  151. Felipe Dacal-dacal
  152. Arnie Espenilla
  153. Zando Alcovendas
  154. Pizo Cabug
  155. Ryan Hubilla
  156. Nelly Bagasala
  157. Liovigildo Palma
  158. Nephtali Morada
  159. Lito Itao
  160. Joel Anino
  161. Salvador Romano
  162. Mario Agsab
  163. Ramon Jalandoni
  164. Guiller Casas
  165. Alex Lacay
  166. Jeffrey Bayot
  167. Leah Tumbalang
  168. Nedis Bacong
  169. Angelito Marivao
  170. Nathaniel Tagaylo
  171. Reynaldo Sr. Malaborbor
  172. Emerito Pinza
  173. Romy Candor
  174. Jay-ar Mercado
  175. Marlon Maldos
  176. Jennifer Tonag
  177. Nora Apique
  178. John Farochilin
  179. Jose Reynaldo Porquia
  180. Gilbert Domingo
  181. Japzon Maureen
  182. Allan Aguilando
  183. Jose Catalogo
  184. Froilan Reyes
  185. Julius Giron

*Source: Karapatan

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