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Human rights leader killed in Philippine ‘war against dissent’ | News



A human rights leader has been killed in the central Philippines in what observers and rights defenders have said is a continuing escalation of the “war against dissent” under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Zara Alvarez, former education director of the human rights alliance Karapatan, died on the spot after being shot six times on Monday evening as she was heading home after buying food for dinner. She was the 13th member of the organisation killed since mid-2016, when Duterte came to power, the group said.

Police said Alvarez was killed by an unidentified assailant in the central city of Bacolod. Witnesses reportedly chased the attacker, who got away with the help of an accomplice on a motorcycle.

On Wednesday, government investigators promised to investigate the case, adding that they are looking into the victim’s affiliation with alleged “leftist groups” as a possible lead for the attack.

Alvarez’s death comes just weeks after Duterte signed into law controversial anti-terror legislation, which allows for warrantless arrests and longer detentions without charge – provisions that legal experts warned could be directed at anyone criticising the president.

Karapatan’s national leader, Cristina Palabay, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that given the circumstances of Alvarez’s murder, she is blaming the government.

“Considering the prior threats that they received from state forces, it is not really far from our mind that those who killed them are from the state forces,” she said, adding that Alvarez was among those listed by Duterte’s justice department as suspected “terrorists”.

Palabay pointed out that with the coronavirus pandemic, cities have imposed curfews and set up checkpoints in their respective areas.

“Everything is on lockdown, isn’t it? The streets are very much guarded by state forces with all the checkpoints. And yet, the killers were able to get through these cordons of state forces.”

Failed peace talks

Communist rebels have been fighting a rebellion for more than 50 years in a conflict that has so far killed more than 30,000 people. In recent years, the number of rebel fighters has dropped significantly, and there have been several attempts by both the government and communist leaders to reach a peace agreement.

During his 2016 campaign for the presidency, Duterte promised to negotiate with the rebels and found some allies among activist groups, proclaiming himself as the country’s “first leftist president”. As mayor of the city of Davao, Duterte had also established cordial ties with the communists.

But while he quickly initiated talks with the rebels once taking office, negotiations collapsed in mid-2017.

Since then, the president has stepped up his rhetoric against the rebels, declaring them “terrorists” and pledging to wipe them out after a series of recent ambushes against government troops.

As the prospects of a peace deal with communists dimmed, Duterte even goaded the military in early 2018 to shoot female rebels in their genitals to render them “useless”.

Later that year, Duterte ordered more military troops and police to Negros Occidental – where Bacolod is the capital – and two other central Philippine regions, “to suppress lawless violence and acts of terror”.

He also created a national task force “to end local communist armed conflict”.

Duterte also directed his ire against other activists, farmers organisations, land rights campaigners, as well as those who have openly criticised his deadly war on drugs and other alleged rights abuses.

Around the same time, the military and other officials in the Duterte administration started accusing several activist groups of acting as “fronts” of the rebels, raising fears that they could be killed after the president tagged the communists as “terrorist”.

The government has denied carrying out targeted killings, and said that those who have been killed had resisted arrest.

Advocate for farmers

Alvarez, the 39-year-old rights leader killed on Monday, had been advocating for years for farmers’ rights in Negros, a resource-rich island, where a few politically connected families own vast tracts of sugarcane plantations.

In 2019, she led a group of farmers in documenting and denouncing alleged rights abuses by government troops following the killing of farmworkers, accused of being members of the communist rebels. Alvarez herself was accused of being a rebel sympathiser, or an outright rebel member.

In an interview with Al Jazeera’s 101 East in 2019, Alvarez said that with regards to the recent killings in Negros, “it is very clear that it is the police who killed those victims.”

Authorities denied those allegations and have pledged to investigate the dozens of killings, although no suspects have been apprehended or prosecuted.

Now, Alvarez herself has been killed.

Farmers in Negros island rally against the government following the recent spate of killings of farmers [Al Jazeera 101 East Documentary: Duterte’s New War]

Palabay said her group, Karapatan, and other activist groups are in anguish with the series of killings of their colleagues, including Alvarez.

In a statement obtained by Al Jazeera, San Carlos Catholic Bishop Gerardo Alminaza decried the death of Alvarez saying that her work on behalf of the poor residents of Negros “is worthy of emulation”.

The Philippines’ National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) also condemned the killing, saying Alvarez was “a constant force in the struggle for justice” for farmers in her hometown.

In a separate social media post, NUPL President Edre Olalia said that “the obvious intent” of the Alvarez’s killing was “to sow terror”.

Earlier on Monday, activists buried Randall Echanis, one of the land rights activists who negotiated for a peace deal with the Duterte administration.

Echanis, head of the urban poor organisation, Anakpawis, was killed on August 10 following an alleged encounter with police in Metro Manila. His relatives, however, said the 72-year old activist was undergoing medical treatment and unarmed when he was killed.

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Another blow as Judge throws out Kiggundu’s lawyer Muwema



When court sat on Friday to hear the Kiggundu’s application to stop independent audit, he did not have a written application, and Justice Henry Adonyo instead ordered the plaintiff’s lawyer Fred Muwema to go make a written application seeking court to dismiss the audit and return to court on September 30 for a hearing of the application. But this adds more pressure on Kiggundu who is choking with the loans.

On 31 August, the judge ordered the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) to carry out and independent audit into the accounts of the businessman and financial statements exchanged between the two parties, and present a report to court.

When asked by journalists why he has filed for an application seeking dismissal of the audit, Fred Muwema had this to say. “We are saying that let the validity and legality of those credit facilities (loans) be decided first before you can audit” He said.

The ruling on the application of the main suit to determine whether the businessman owes loan arrears to the bank is set for 5th October 2020, after which a date for hearing of the case will be set.


Hamis Kiggundu through his companies Ham enterprises and Kiggs International (U) ltd sued DTB branches in Kenya and Uganda for deducting money from his accounts something which the bank contends and said they only acted as per the loan agreement of deducting 30% from Kiggundu’s accounts to recover the credit facilities rendered to him between February 2011 and September 2016

But Court documents filed by the bank in their defense shows that Kiggundu, between February 2011 and September 2016, was granted various credit facilities by the said DTB Banks.

First, via Ham Enterprises Limited, Kiggundu obtained a loan of $6,663,453 and another Sh2.5bn from the DTB (U) to finance his projects in the real estate business.

Later, according to New Vision, he got a facility worth $4.5m through Kiggs International (U) Limited from DTB (K) and mortgaged his properties, which include Plot 328 located at Kawuku on Block 248 Kyadondo, three plots that include 36, 37 and 38 on Folio 1533 Victoria Crescent II situated in Kyadondo and land on Makerere Hill Road on LRV 3716 Folio 10 Plot 923 Block 9.

Documents show that as of January 21, 2020, Kiggundu was in default on payment obligations of $6.298m on the loan facility of $6.663m, as well as sh2.885b on the demand overdraft facility of sh1.5b and the temporary demand overdraft facility of sh1b.

The banks say that Kiggundu was in default on the payment of another $3.662m out of a total loan facility of $4m and another $458,604 on a loan facility of $500,000, as of January 21, 2020.

The DTB consequently served him with a demand notice to either pay up or lose the assets that he submitted as collateral security. The bank threatened to attach a plot on Makerere Hill Road and other prime commercial properties.

Analysts says that Kiggundu’s lawyer is playing delaying tactics aimed at stopping the independent audit as ordered by the court earlier. Kiggundu had wanted court to believe his own audit of loan transactions, but that would amount to injustice to the banks that gave him money-DTB Uganda and DTB Kenya.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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