human rights defenders

A life dedicated to justice: Long-time rights defender Marie Hilao Enriquez dies

Jodesz Gavilan
A life dedicated to justice: Long-time rights defender Marie Hilao Enriquez dies

ICON. Marie Hilao Enriquez is considered a mentor by many human rights activists and workers in the Philippines.

Photo from Karapatan

'My mother dedicated her life to fighting for justice and human rights,' her daughter Andrea says

MANILA, Philippines – Activist and Karapatan chairperson emeritus Amaryllis “Marie” Hilao Enriquez passed away, her daughter Andrea confirmed on Monday, April 25.

In a Facebook post, she said her mother died on Sunday, April 24. She was 68.

“My mother dedicated her life to fighting for justice and human rights,” Andrea said.

“She was a beautiful person, funny, intelligent, brave, and strong, she was loved and will be greatly missed,” she added.

Enriquez co-founded rights group Karapatan in 1995. She became its chairperson in 2009.

Enriquez’s activism can be traced back to the days of Martial Law under the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. She first got involved as a scholar at the University of the Philippines, eventually joining the Kabataang Makabayan.

“Tita Marie, as she is fondly called by many, is a stalwart in the anti-Marcos dictatorship struggle and in the relentless advocacy for justice and accountability of the Marcoses, as she and her family endured gross human rights violations during that dark period of our nation’s history,” Karapatan said in a statement.

Her sister, student leader and journalist Liliosa Hilao, was killed in 1973, considered to be the first female and student activist to die in detention during Martial Law. Enriquez herself was arrested and tortured in 1974, while doing community work, and was released only two years later.

The fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 didn’t stop Enriquez from calling for justice for the thousands of victims of the brutal military rule. She joined and eventually chaired the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Para sa Amnestiya (Selda) and continued campaigns for justice and reparations of victims, including the enactment of the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.

The law led to the creation of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board which awarded compensation to more than 11,000 victims of Martial Law before ceasing operations in 2018.

Enriquez also contributed to the historic class action suit in Hawaii against the Marcos family, which counted her sister as one of the main plaintiffs.

In 2016, Enriquez led the creation of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA), a bid to counter the continued rise of the dictator’s family.

Enriquez leaves behind a field full of activists and human rights workers she mentored for more than three decades.

“We are deeply indebted to her brilliant, selfless and passionate work as among the foremost human rights defenders in the Philippines,” Karapatan said.

“We vow to strive to honor her legacy of service to the Filipino people in every possible way that we can and as long as tyrants and dictators remain in our midst,” the group added.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia said to call Enriquez “an icon of the human rights struggle is an understatement.”

“She was unique, indefatigable, funny, thoughtful and selfless, even as she was naughty and sometimes pesky in her own adorable way,” he said.

“Don’t worry, we got the baton and we are holding to it fast,” Olalia added. –

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.