Peace talks adviser to NDFP killed at home
MANILA, Philippines — Death came to a consultant to the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the scuttled peace talks between the rebels and the government early Monday in an apartment in Novaliches, Quezon City.
Randall “Randy’’ Echanis, 72, chair of Anakpawis, “was stabbed by suspected state forces in his rented place in the wee hours of the morning,” said Anakpawis, a party-list of labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno and the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
Sought for comment on claims that state forces were behind the killing of the peace consultant, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said, “Let’s wait for results of police investigation before pinning [the] death of Echanis on anyone.”
The NDFP is the political organization of groups that include the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, which has been waging a guerrilla war for more than 50 years and negotiating on and off with the government to end the conflict since 1987.
Former Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao showed the Inquirer a police report on the death of Echanis bearing the name of a different person.
In a report dated Aug. 10 and submitted to the Quezon City Police District (QCPD), Echanis, identified as Manuel Santiago, was found lifeless on a folding bed around 1:35 a.m. The police report was signed by Police Lt. Nick Fontanilla, chief of the homicide section of the QCPD Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDU).
Louie Tagapia, a neighbor, was discovered lying on the floor with both hands tied to his back with a nylon cord. The QCPD said it was looking into five possible perpetrators.
Casilao said witnesses told police that Tagapia had merely checked on what was happening at the studio before he was attacked.
In the police report, witness Rheyvan Dy said he was awakened by a loud noise from the second floor of the apartment on Petronia Street around 1:35 a.m.
When he peeped through the window, he saw the suspects hurriedly coming out of the apartment. Dy and his father later discovered the two bodies.
Dy then informed Patty Pascual, the owner of the apartment, who later reported the matter to the barangay and the Novaliches police.
Taken by the police were Echanis’ laptops, notebooks and flash drives as evidence, the report said.
Casilao said it was not clear why the report bore a different name when Echanis’ photos showed it was him.
Fontanilla said Police Maj. Elmer Monsalve, chief of the QCPD CIDU, said that as far as the police were concerned, the body was that of Santiago, who was identified through a company identification card.
Echanis suffered at least four stab wounds between the neck and the spine, while Tagapia had a stab wound in the head, according to Casilao. The marks suggested that something heavy struck Tagapia’s head.
Echanis’ body will be subjected to autopsy on Tuesday morning, said the former party-list lawmaker.
The peace consultant is survived by his wife Linda and two children—a daughter and Ranmill, who worked with Casilao as a legislative officer.
According to Casilao, Echanis was undergoing medical treatment for a stomach ailment and hypertension when police forces raided his house.
Echanis, he said, had been receiving several threats before, following the end of the peace negotiations, and had decided to leave his family to ensure their safety.
Anakpawis decided to secure Echanis who had since moved from one place to another while continuing his writing.
Third consultant killed
Echanis, who had served as the deputy secretary-general of KMP, is the third NDFP consultant killed in the country.
Sotero Llamas, who also served as NDFP consultant during the peace talks with the government, was killed in Albay province by three unidentified gunmen in 2006.
Another NDFP peace consultant, Randy Malayao, was killed by a gunman in 2019 while sleeping on a bus in a stopover in Aritao town, Nueva Vizcaya province.
Jose Maria Sison, exiled CPP founder, condemned the killing of Echanis and his neighbor, pinning the blame on state forces.
“Duterte and his gang of butchers are truly monstrous for murdering the unarmed Randall and his neighbor,” Sison said in a statement sent from his base in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Immunity under Jasig
Sison argued that even after the termination of the peace negotiations by President
Duterte, “Randall was supposed to enjoy the protection of the safety and immunity provisions of the Jasig (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) just like all the other negotiators, consultants and staff of the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and NDFP in the peace negotiations.”
Under the agreement signed in 1995, the members, consultants and staff of the NDFP who were part of the negotiating team were granted immunity from arrest, detention and were provided safety guarantees.
NDFP legal consultant Edre Olalia said Echanis’ murder showed that the antiterror law “may just be a formal legal cover” to go after activists and dissidents of the Duterte administration.
“How then can we encourage people to openly and effectively engage in legitimate causes and advocacies for social and economic reforms if you treacherously silence them?” Olalia said.
Childlike, sharp, firm
“Is there no more space at all for robust dissent, protest and advocacy?” Olalia said.
He recalled that Echanis had a “gullible and childlike” character, but he was also “as sharp and firm as could be.”
Several groups, including Anakpawis and the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya Pilipinas, have called for justice for Echanis.
“He is a person full of commitment despite the difficulties. He has experienced harassment [on several occasions]—he was jailed several times, threatened with trumped-up charges,’’ Casilao said.
“His work reflects his love [of] country, especially … the farmers and the rural sector. This was what he liked most. He was a big contribution in our agrarian reform bill … most of his life was his involvement in peasant groups,” he added.
In a post on Twitter, Pamalakaya said the death of Echanis came amid the culture of extrajudicial killings with impunity under the Duterte regime.
“This is a declaratory act that national leaders of the legal-democratic movement are now targeted to be killed by the Duterte regime,” the group added.
—With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Jhesset O. Enano and Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
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