Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano condemned the government, particularly the Philippine National Police (PNP), for the “arbitrary” transfer of detained Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Deputy Secretary-General Randall ‘Ka Randy’ Echanis from PNP Custodial Center to the Manila City Jail on Saturday.
“Echanis is a political prisoner. He should not be mixed with suspected common criminals,” Mariano said in a press statement.
Mariano said Echanis’ lawyers were not informed of the transfer. And based from what they know, he said that Echanis should be held at PNP custodial center.
“We fear for Ka Randy’s security considering his status as a political prisoner. We’re also afraid that he will be subjected to tremendous suffering given the prison condition and his health condition,” said the activist legislator.
He also warned the government would be held accountable if any untoward incident will happen to the peasant leader.
Echanis, who was transferred from Palo, Leyte to Camp Crame Friday, was charged with 15 counts of murder allegedly committed during a purge of suspected “spies and counter-revolutionaries” within the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), between 1985 and 1991.
He was arrested last January 28, 2007 in Bago City, Negros Occidental, while attending a conference on agrarian reform organized by KMP, the National Federation of Sugar Workers and the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura.
PNP: Arrest legal
PNP chief Director-General Avelino Razon Jr. said in a press release earlier that a Regional Trial Court in Leyte served a warrant which the police used to arrest Echanis.
“The arrest of Echanis was lawful and was done in accordance with our Police Operational Procedures,” Razon said through the PNP Public Information Office.
Earlier, Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, a co-accused of Echanis, charged military officials of lying and falsifying the charges against them by using recycled skeletons as supposed evidence of a mass grave. Ocampo said five of the 15 skeletons allegedly found in Hilongos, Leyte, as alleged evidence of mass killings had actually been also previously dug up in Barangay Monterico in Albay in 2004.
On April, the Supreme Court granted Ocampo provisional release on bail while the Court deliberated on his petition for certiorari [lower court to send the record in a given case for review of the Supreme Court] and prohibition.
Echanis detained anew
Mariano said that in the late 1960’s, Echanis was among the batches of activists who responded to the Kabataang Makabayan’s (KM) call to “Serve the People.” He went to the countryside and helped in peasant education, propaganda, and organizing work in Cagayan Valley, Cordillera, and Ilocos regions until his arrest in July 1983.
The activist legislator said Echanis’ recent detention was no longer new citing that in 1983 to 1984, Echanis was detained under solitary confinement and held incommunicado in Camp Aguinaldo. Mariano said even Echanis’ close relatives and lawyers were not allowed to visit him.
He was among the political prisoners released after EDSA Revolution I. After his release in 1986, Echanis joined the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA) and became a member of its national council.
In 1987, Mariano said Echanis went back to peasant organizing until his second arrest in 1990 by combined elements of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), the Naval Intelligence and Security Force (NISF), and the then National Capital Region Defense Command. He was confined together with his wife Erlinda Lacaba and their daughter, then two-year old Amanda Echanis.
He was released from detention in 1992 after a case filed against him for violation of PD 1866 (illegal possession of firearms in furtherance of rebellion) was dismissed by a Manila Regional Trial Court.
Since 2002, the lawmaker said Echanis has helped in peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as a member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee for Social and Economic Reforms.
As KMP deputy secretary general for external affairs, Echanis attended and represented KMP in international peasant assemblies and conferences such as the World Farmers’ Assembly in France, the World Social Forum in Brazil, the World Anti-Imperialist Conference in Indonesia and a delegate to the 1st and 2nd Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle in The Netherlands.