Human rights defender and martyr; educator and writer
1981 – 2020
ZARA ALVAREZ (1981 – 2020) was most known as a fearless defender of human rights and she paid the ultimate price for her dedication to her life’s mission: she was ambushed and killed by still unidentified assailants. She already knew about threats to her life and asked for protection from a court; unfortunately, her request was denied.
Alvarez was also a licensed professional teacher. Part of her most recent work was to monitor and document the human rights violations in Negros, including disappearances or killings of farmers, activists, lawyers, and drug suspects. She would provide paralegal assistance to victims and help publicize their stories nationally and internationally. This exposed her to threats from those who wanted to silence her. She was even branded as a terrorist by the national government. Even with all this hovering over her head, she managed to focus on her work fearlessly.
From her youth to her adult life, she served many roles with many organizations, including Chair and National Council Member for Anak Bayan – Negros, Deputy Secretary-General for Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Negros, Education and Campaign Officer for Karapatan – Negros, Staff for the Negros and North Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA), Volunteer for the Church-Workers Solidarity group in San Carlos Diocese, and Advocacy Officer for the Negros Island Health Integrated Program.
Years ago, she was accused of a crime she did not commit and was jailed for two years before being granted bail. From her cell, she wrote, “…one voice is a noise, but more voices is a voice of freedom.” It would take another six years before she would be acquitted in court.
During her college days, she worked as a church volunteer and was exposed to the local farming and fishing communities of Cadiz, Negros. This was where she witnessed first-hand the poverty and hardship people had to endure daily. Dissatisfied with the status quo, she became an active student leader and helped organize fora and symposia on social issues like poverty, social injustice, and free education. She was also active in writing articles and served as the Coordinator for Negros of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP).
Her life and death is an invitation to all of us to be braver, to be more honest, and to fight for those who cannot defend themselves. Colleagues say she was compassionate, relentless in her work, and maintained a sense of humor even during difficult times. She was a modest teacher and mother from a modest town but she will always be remembered as a great hero for the poor and forgotten.