MANILA (UPDATE) — Peasant leader Randall Echanis was tortured to death, the Commission on Human Rights said Friday, following a tug of war between the police and the slain activist’s family for his body.
Echanis, whose body was autopsied by the commission, bore at least 15 wounds, including 2 on his head, said CHR Commissioner Leah Tanodra-Armamento.
Twelve of these wounds were on his back and were incised, meaning they were longer than they were deep, and were meant to “cause pain,” she said.
Echanis, a former peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, also suffered a head injury from a blunt object. Both of his eyes were bruised, she said.
Echanis died from a spiked weapon with a curved end, which was thrust into his back and hit his heart, she said.
“The killing is not merely just to kill him, but to make him suffer before he eventually was killed,” Armamento told ANC.
'You cannot survive this'
Echanis’ body was found in his home early in the morning of August 10, after a witness allegedly heard “loud noises” coming from Echanis’ second floor house. Another man identified as a neighbor was found dead, too.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun, who conducted an independent autopsy four days after Echanis’ death, said that contrary to the initial death certificate, the peasant leader did not die of a gunshot wound to the head. There was no gunshot wound to begin with.
What killed Echanis, said Fortun, was a long stab wound from the back that punctured his aorta, nicked his esophagus and a portion of his heart.
“You cannot survive this,” Fortun said of the stabbing, adding such a wound would lead to instant death.
There were, however, several superficial stabs on Echanis’ back, and several blows to his head that led to the fracturing of his skull.
By all indications, Fortun said, Echanis sustained these injuries while he was still alive. Fortun did not go as far as to call these signs of torture, as she explained “torture” is not a forensic term.
But she believes the presence of these injuries show that he was first made to feel pain before being dealt the death blow.
There were hardly any signs of struggle, and most of the wounds were on Echanis’ back. Given initial information that Echanis was killed on a bed, Fortun said it would have been easy to have straddled him and inflicted these injuries. Echanis was also 71 years old, which meant he would not be able to put up much of a fight.
Fortun said there could have been three weapons used on Echanis, and that there is a big possibility that there was more than one assailant. There would have been one blunt instrument that led to the blows to the head, a smaller bladed weapon that caused the superficial stabs, and a longer bladed weapon that killed him in the end.
When asked if the method of killing revealed any clues as to the skill of the attacker, or if it could be considered execution-style, Fortun said that the deep stab wound was deliberate and went through the ribs, which would have protected the internal organs from injury. Whether or not the attacker knew to hit that spot on purpose is beyond what the autopsy could reveal.
However telling an autopsy can be, however, Fortun said a crucial part of the investigation would be the thoroughness by which the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) of the Philippine National Police swept the crime scene of evidence.
By her experience, Fortun expressed worries that this sweep was not done well, and that many clues to the perpetrator would forever be lost with the mishandling of the crime scene.
Fortun also questioned why the police even had to “snatch” Echanis’ remains from the family-appointed funeral parlor, supposedly to try and identify it.
There was, she said, a very easy way to identify him without having to move the body: a simple look at Echanis’ teeth, in comparison with close up photos of him, would have sufficed to at least gain some confidence that what the family is saying is true. Fortun showed slide comparisons of the teeth on the remains of Echanis and old photos of him that clearly show a unique and identifiable pattern.
In a statement read in their behalf, the Echanis family condemned what they called the brutal and gruesome murder of Ka Randy. They said they could think of no other possible perpetrator than the elements of the state, who they said have been threatening Echanis for his work as a consultant of the NDFP and chairman of the peasant group Anakpawis.
Lawyers of Anakpawis said they are investigating who specifically to hold accountable for the peasant leader’s death.
The CHR has yet to conduct an autopsy on the neighbor’s body and investigate police’s claim that there were no signs of forced entry into the crime scene, said Armamente.
A witness who lives in the same apartment building reported hearing a scuffle and seeing 5 people fleeing the area before finding the bodies of the victims, she said.
The CHR is “not yet sure” of the motive in the killing, said its commissioner.
Malacañang denied that state forces were linked to the killing of Echanis and human rights defender Zara Alvarez in Bacolod City just days later.
"Blaming state forces as the people behind these murders is unfounded as investigation on the killings of Randall Enchanis and Zara Alvarez is now underway," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Wednesday.
"We are a nation of laws; and violence has no place in any civilized society," added Roque, a lawyer.