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Bishop grieves for slain Church and rights worker

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza expressed grief at the brutal murder of church worker and human rights defender Zara Alvarez in Bacolod City Monday night, August 17, calling the victim his “dear little child of struggle.”

“I bleed of this never-ending injustice and violence, someone closest in my work with the oppressed is murdered. I just cannot believe this continuing madness of senseless killings!” Alminaza said in a statement.

“These systemic killings of human rights defenders and activists must be condemned and must stop! Our responsible agencies must pursue justice and accountability on those responsible and should never allow impunity of criminals doing senseless executions of Filipinos!” the Bishop cried.

Alvarez, a victim of terrorist-tagging by the Rodrigo Duterte government, was shot to death while on her way home. She was 39 years old and survived by an 11-year old daughter.

Alminaza said the victim was tagged as a terrorist in a case filed before the Department of Justice in 2018. Her name was eventually deleted from the list but she continued to receive death threats from suspected state forces.

The prelate said the threats has resulted in Alvarez’s violent death “widely deemed as another case of extrajudicial killing, in pursuance of the state’s anti-terrorism campaign.”

“Zara is a human rights champion in the Negros island, an activist, organizer and ecumenical church worker. Her active involvement in the Church People -Workers Solidarity is worthy of emulation – always reminding us to be prophetic in our work of evangelization and social justice,” Alminaza described the victim.

A very personal tribute

In his statement, the Bishop recalled the victim’s “brave words” in an interview by UCANEWS in 2019, saying that because of her work of pursuing justice for the victims of human rights violations, “receiving death threats has already become one small part of [their] work…”

“Just last night, Zara Alvarez took the bullets from her assassin. Those who wanted to silence a woman of dedicated service for the poor, yes, they murdered her,” he said.

The Bishop further wrote:

“Zara, they imprisoned you of fabricated charges; yet, you were declared innocent by the court.

“Zara, they are afraid of you; though a petite woman yet capable of condemning injustice and ever-ready to organize farmers, peasants, workers, jeepney drivers and even church people.

“Zara, they took your life, believing that they can silence the cause you are fighting for… But no, Zara, your martyrdom in the cause for justice will inspire us to advance the cry for justice – the cry of the oppressed.

“Zara, you are a courageous witness in the cause for social justice.

“As you said: I cannot leave everything behind while everyone I know is being killed…’”

The Bishop, who last year ordered the nightly ringing of all church bells in his diocese and issuing an oratio imperata to call for an end to the killings of farmers and activists in Negros Island, also said he is grateful for having known the victim.

“I thank the Lord for knowing you, Zara, my dear little child of struggle. I promise to ever continue our work in the service of God’s poor. You inspired me in many ways to be a pastor of the anawim of God’s kingdom,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)