In a personal statement, Clarissa (called Yesha) Ramos of our partner organization PDG condemns the assassination of a fellow filipino human rights defender and remembers the life of a close friend – Zara Alvarez.
I have known Zara for quite a long time now. She was that young petite activist who would always stand out on the crowd with her strong voice addressing the crowd about the oppressive situation of the peasants, her strong words demanding for freedom from the bondage of poverty, for a just and lasting peace, for land to the tillers, for better education to the young generations. She was very young then yet very resolute. I have never seen such determination. Back then, I would always wish I had the same defiance, the same strength, the same courage to speak out. Zara can do it with spontaneity, without a pause, without hesitance, without reservation.
When we both saw our pictures on a poster together with my husband and many more activists displayed on the streets and tagged as terrorists, we jokingly said “why didn’t they choose a better picture of us?” We put humor in it despite the growing fears inside us. Zara would always say, “we will always be misunderstood by those greedy politicians in power because we speak the truth. They perceive us as enemies because we work with the people, we are grounded, we re-echo the voice of the marginalized”.
When my husband was murdered in 2018, the first two persons I reached out was Clarizza Singson of Karapatan and Zara who was then working with NIHIP. They are my most trusted comrades whom I rely on. They were my constant companions when we had to go on fact finding missions, when we had to manage teams to search for the whereabouts of abducted peasants or human rights defenders, when we had to confront state agents in dialogues, when we had to sit down and compare our notes on documented human rights violations. Zara was there to support our campaigns and alliance strengthening. Zara was my sidekick when we have to organize programs for the community health workers. Zara was always there, ready to give her time and her energy.
We had our most trying times as human rights defenders in Negros since 2018. One day, Zara told me she had to take on the task at KARAPATAN-Negros. We had that long talk. She was very frail at that time because she just recovered from an ailment. And yet despite her health condition she took on the task. She once told me, “Yesha It is so hard for me to get a good sleep. Every time I hear my phone ring, I know someone might have been killed, or abducted, or arrested and it gives me this chilling feeling. But I have to get up, think straight, collect my strength and move because every minute counts.” And then we would laughingly compare how our bodies responded to our anxieties and burn out – Zara losing her hair and me losing my weight.
Since last year we were always together speaking in forums, telling our painful stories of struggle. We were together shedding tears of anger as we see more rights advocates killed and arrested. We were together meeting journalists, organizing investigation missions, taking different routes to make sure we will not be followed by hooded killers. And just recently, we concluded our relief mission this August. It was an assistance for the political prisoners and we were planning to do more, we made this pact that we will continue helping the peasants and human rights defenders unjustly incarcerated or killed. Though exhausted, Zara would still give you a smile because she believed that we can and we will always be able to trek this long winding and thorny roads ahead to reach our dream of liberation and social change.
She was that understanding comrade who listened to me when I have to make a hard decision to step back for a while. She bravely pointed out to me my shortcomings but made me feel that I still belong. Her exact words to me: “reflect lang maayo meg. Kabay pa whatever decision bal-an ko mabudlay pero makaya mo panindugan. Indi lang pag I-detach kaugalingon mo sa masa kay indi ka gid na magtalang. Nahangpan ko gid ang sitwasyon mo subong.” (just reflect well meg. In whatever decisions,I know it will be difficult but you can endure it. Don’t just detach yourself from the masses because you will never be deceived. I trulyunderstand your situation now.) She gave me that warm reassurance.
Zara you were taken away from us brutally. You were shot and killed, the same way they murdered my husband. When I heard the news, I froze, Ben’s dead body at the hospital bearing 3 gunshots flashed back to me. When I saw a picture of your dead body sprawled on the street, it flashed back to me a picture of Ben’s blood sprawled on the street. The state’s death squad have taken the good protectors, the good defenders. You were so brave Zara. You were tirelessly waging a good fight for the people.
I know we have become a burden to this fascist government. Blood has splattered all over Negros. blood of the farmers who feed us. blood of the workers who toiled. Mothers who have lost their children. Children have lost their parents. Wives widowed.My heart bleeds.We are humanrights defenders who work for peace, we are persons with dignities, with dreams for our families, with hopes for a future that will free us from all forms of exploitation.
You, and thousands of farmers and activists fell victims to these merciless killings. But we will continue thefight. We will continue because with every lives lost, more defenders and activists will emerge who will never stop seeking for justice. Collective action is all we need in the face of anger and fear, intimidation and murder. The life you offered to the people will not be wasted. Our tears will not be wasted because we will hold on to the principles that we have vowed to win. We may not achieve it in our lifetime, but we will – for the generations to come.
For Kai, Zara’s loving daughter, stay strong. I know how painful it is to lose someone you love so dearly because I too lost my dear husband. Do not be afraid. You have us with you. People around you now will protect you. Wherever we are, we will continue raising our fist and fight for justice.
A red salute to you Zara, and for the thousands who have sacrificed their lives. HUSTISYA PARA KAY ZARA ALVAREZ! HUSTISYA PARA KAY BEN RAMOS! HUSTISYA SA TANAN NG BIKTIMA SANG EXTRA JUDICIAL KILLINGS!
Clarissa Ramos, August 2020