Interagency body to probe Echanis, Alvarez slays
A Department of Justice (DOJ)-led interagency body has begun its investigation into the murder of peasant leader Randall Echanis and would also be looking into the killing of human rights activist Zara Alvarez.
“The investigation into the killing of Randall Echanis is already underway. The composite team tasked to conduct the investigation was given one month within which to submit a report on its findings,” Undersecretary Markk Perete, the DOJ spokesperson, told reporters in a Viber message.
Echanis, Anakpawis chair, and his apartment mate were found stabbed to death in their Quezon City residence on Aug. 10.
Alvarez, former education director of the human rights alliance Karapatan, was shot to death by unknown assailants in Bacolod City last Monday as she was heading home after buying food for dinner.
The investigating body, formally known as the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons, was created under Administrative Order No. 35 issued by President Benigno Aquino III in 2012.
Perete said the IAC secretariat on Thursday also recommended the inclusion of Alvarez’s case in the docket of the task force. Asked if the submitted reports on the two murders would be complete or merely initial findings, Perete said: “That will depend on the teams. They may ask for an extension. Then a special oversight team will review and evaluate their report and recommend what action to take.”
The IAC is chaired by the justice secretary. Its members are the defense and interior secretaries, the chair of the Presidential Human Rights Committee, the presidential adviser on political affairs, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ chief of staff, Philippine National Police director-general, and National Bureau of Investigation director.
The Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Human Rights, and the Department of Foreign Affairs participate as independent observers.
In Iloilo City, tributes continued to pour in for slain Negros human rights activist Alvarez as an international outcry for justice mounted.
Bells in churches of the Philippine Independent Church in Negros Occidental will ring daily at 6 p.m. until her burial.
Her friends and colleagues gathered at the Sta. Maria Sanctuary of the Redemptorist Church in Bacolod City on Thursday where a Mass concelebrated by seven priests was made.
They offered prayers, songs, and messages expressing grief and lauding Alvarez for spending most of her life fighting for the rights of farmers, workers, and other marginalized sectors.
“She was persistent and tireless even as she was mindful of the risks,” one of her colleagues said. A lone gunman repeatedly shot Alvarez on Monday evening as she was about to go home to her boarding house at Barangay Mandalagan in Bacolod City. Alvarez, 39, and an education graduate, died from multiple gunshot wounds, including on her back.
She was the research and advocacy officer of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Negros Island Health Integrated Program and a paralegal of the human rights group Karapatan. She was also at the forefront of the documenting and monitoring of the killings of farmers, lawyers and activists, and other human rights violations on Negros Island.
The Philippine National Police has created a special investigation task group headed by Col. Henry Biñas, Bacolod City police director, to focus on the investigation of her killing, according to Capt. Richard Pajarito, chief of Station 3 of the Bacolod City Police Office.
Investigators have yet to determine the identity of her assailants and the motive of the attack.
“We are exploring all possible angles, including her involvement in activist organizations and any personal grudge,” Pajarito told the Inquirer on Wednesday.
The killing of Alvarez, who has spoken in other countries on the human rights situation in Negros, has triggered an international outcry from human rights defenders who are calling for justice.
“So terrible to hear that [women human rights defender] Zara Alvarez … was shot and killed in the Philippines last night. She had been smeared, Red-tagged and threatened for years,” Mary Lawlor, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights defenders, tweeted on Tuesday.
The Geneva-based NGO International Service for Human Rights also expressed “deep grief and indignation” over the killing of Alvarez.
“How can it be that courageous people who work to realize our common vision of a better world for all continue to be killed by State and non-State actors? Together with national civil society and (United Nations) Special Procedures, we urge for an independent investigation mechanism into the human rights situation in the Philippines,” it said in a tweet.
The New York-based International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which includes over 280 NGOs, social movements and advocates in more than 75 countries also expressed solidarity with Karapatan and expressed outrage over the killing.
Her colleagues have blamed state forces in her killing, citing repeated death threats.
“She was subjected to intensive surveillance and was followed by suspected government agents days before she was killed. She monitored men taking pictures of her when she was walking in the streets,” Clarizza Singson, secretary-general of Karapatan-Negros, told the Inquirer in a phone interview on Wednesday. —WIT REPORTS FROM CARLA GOMEZ AND NESTOR BURGOS
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