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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Injustices vs a man who fought for social justice

Like many other militant activists since the Marcos dictatorship, Randall Echanis survived repeated acts of injustice against his person, by state authorities and military/police agents. Until his brutal murder in a small rented apartment in Novaliches, Quezon City, past midnight on Aug. 10.

No, that’s not quite a precise statement. Because even after death, his cold body in a coffin, Randall and his grieving family were treated with gross disrespect by Quezon City police investigators.

When he was killed, Randall Echanis, 71, was the chairman of Anakpawis (a party-list group for peasants and workers), deputy secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. Since 2002, he had been a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in the GRP-NDFP peace talks. He had been arrested and detained under three administrations: the Marcos dictatorship, Corazon Aquino and Gloria Arroyo.

His body, shot and stabbed, and that of his neighbor Louie Tagapia, were both found in his apartment. A witness, also a neighbor, was awakened by the noise in Randall’s room and saw at least five men leaving the place.

Per newspaper accounts, the police first brought Randall’s body to the Pink Petals Memorial Homes in La Loma. After his widow Erlinda identified his body she had it transferred to St. Peter’s Memorial Chapel on Commonwealth Avenue. But that very night the police “forcibly seized” his body and returned it to Pink Petals, purportedly to verify his identity, telling his family to produce evidence such as fingerprints or DNA test results.

Only on Wednesday did the police finally return Randall to his family. QCPD chief Maj. Gen. Ronnie Montejo told reporters the body’s right thumb print matched with that on his ID card issued by Brgy. Aguho in Pateros. Did they need to retrieve, transfer and hold the body for two days just to get that thumb print? Couldn’t they have done that at St. Peter’s Memorial Chapel?

More pain was inflicted on Randall’s family by Gen. Montejo and his chief investigator, Maj. Elmer Monsalve. The two said they were pursuing the idea that the killings could have been done either by “akyat bahay” armed robbers or people with a personal grudge against Tagapia – rendering Randall’s death a sort of “collateral damage.”

The leader’s colleagues in Anakpawis, KMP and other allies believe the killings were the handiwork of state security forces and that Randall Echanis was targeted. Rejecting both the QCPD line and its investigation, they called for investigation by the Commission on Human Rights or by independent and impartial bodies.

The Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which both have served as legal consultants of the NDFP negotiating panel in the GRP-NDFP peace talks, look at Randall’s murder from that perspective.

The PILC pointed out that President Duterte’s termination of the peace talks through Proclamation 360 in November 2017 was followed by a spike in threats to peace consultants like Echanis.

“Threats to his security heightened. Randall was ceaselessly hounded by threats of arrest and renewed prosecution,” it said. “The Office of the Solicitor General sought to cancel his bail granted by the Supreme Court in 2012. Fears for Randall’s life and security became paramount as Duterte intensified his attacks – both verbal tirades and active orchestration, against peace consultants and leaders of progressive groups,” PILC said.

It recalled the 2019 murder of Randy Malayao, another NDF peace consultant, who was shot in the head while sleeping inside a bus in Nueva Vizcaya. The killing of Echanis must not be allowed to pass bearing the same “suspicious” marks of cover-up and impunity, PILC said.

“Are we totally and almost irretrievably shutting the doors and windows of a potential peaceful resolution of the perennial ills of society by sowing terror and trepidation among those who present alternative solutions?” cried NUPL president Edre Olalia. “Where will the people go thence for their legal struggles if they are not welcome?”

Olalia further called attention to the death of Julius Giron, killed by the military only last March in Baguio City. Giron held an identification document issued by the NDFP under the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees. Like Echanis, ailing and unarmed, Giron was brutally killed at home; that time, the military owned the killing.

“How bad can it get?” Olalia lamented. “How…can we encourage people to openly and effectively engage in legitimate causes and advocacies for social and economic reforms if you can treacherously silence them?”

On its part, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), headed by human rights lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, declared that an “extrajudicial killing” had been carried out, since the two victims were not doing anything illegal that would have necessitated the use of force. The killing, it added, was a “cruel, inhuman and degrading act.”

Two other comments on Randall’s murder are worth quoting:

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who as a former GRP peace panel member had faced Randall on the negotiating table, recalled: “Such a gentle person, while a fighter. Nakakaiyak, nakakagalit. This is cold-blooded murder.”

Veteran journalist Ma. Ceres Doyo, in her Inquirer column last Thursday, wrote in part: “Echanis was a political figure. [His killing]… is something out of the box. ‘A new modus,’ a ‘new format,’ said those who have yet to find words for it…. Murder it definitely was, but no doubt also an assassination. The intent to kill was obvious. Assassination differs from murder in that the former has to do with the killing of a known figure and especially if politics played in it. Like the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.

“Echanis died of multiple stab wounds. It was an assassination by multiple stabbing. (Why do I suddenly recall President Duterte talking about using bayonets? In this day and age.)”

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in Philippine Star
August 15, 2020

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