“Walang hustisya at nandyan pa rin ang mga berdugong pumatay kay Ka Randy at sa marami pang aktibista,” said Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chairperson Danilo Ramos in a statement, lambasting the Department of Justice and called it “useless.”
[No justice and the killers of Ka Randy and many activists are still at large.]
The killing of the peasant leader and peace consultant Randall Echanis transpired in his residence in Quezon City on August 10, 2021 amid lockdown, curfew, and checkpoints. Metro Manila was placed under a 14-day period of modified ECQ in August last year. His neighbor Louie Tagapia was also killed.
He was the chairperson of Anakpawis Partylist and deputy secretary-general for KMP at the time of his death.
Forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun noted in an independent autopsy that Ka Randy had been stabbed around 40 times in the body before a stab to his aorta killed him immediately, adding that there could have been two weapons used in the murder. There were around 28 puncture wounds and around 12 knife-like stab wounds.
Echanis was a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) who attended the peace talks with the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte from 2016 to 2017. He was vice-chair NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Socio-Economic Reforms.
Duterte unilaterally canceled the peace talks in 2017 despite progress on the common draft for social and economic reforms. The subject of the talks at that time was said to be the ‘heart and soul’ of the more than 30-yr old peace process, an effort to address the roots of the 52-year armed conflict in the country: poverty and injustice.
Echanis was a victim of political persecution over the decades, jailed under Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.’s martial law, and the presidencies of Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III.
Red-tagging: a de facto death sentence
The DOJ set up a task force by virtue of Administrative Order 35 to probe the murder of Echanis, among the many unresolved cases of extrajudicial and political killings. The agency and other law enforcement agencies have yet to name or identify or bring to justice a single perpetrator after a year.
“We demand explanations from the DOJ and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. We want Malacañang to take responsibility for the brutal killing of Echanis and other NDFP Peace Consultants. Ipinapatay sila ng NTF-ELCAC,” Ramos added.
[They are being ordered killed by NTF-ELCAC.]
Activists decried red-tagging from state forces, prominently from the NTF-ELCAC, as a de facto death sentence. Many activists were killed after being red-tagged by NTF-ELCAC, government, or police. Others were raided, arrested, and jailed over trumped-up charges.
Echanis was also not the only peace consultant killed and not the first after peace talks fell. Other known NDFP peace consultants killed under Duterte’s watch were:
- Randy Felix Malayao, killed inside a bus in Nueva Ecija on January 30, 2019
- Couple Julius Soriano Giron and Lourdes Tan Torres, killed in Baguio City on March 13, 2020
- Retired NDFP consultants Agaton Topacio and Eugenia Magpantay, killed in the province of Rizal on November 26, 2020
- Retired NDFP consultants Antonio “Manlimbasog” Cabanatan and his wife Florenda “Osang” Yap, initially abducted in Iloilo and tortured for months and later killed on December 26, 2020
- Reynaldo Bocala and aide Welly Arguelles Epago, killed in Iloilo on May 28, 2021
- Former priest Rustico Tan, killed in Camotes Island on May 28, 2021
Rights group Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that these killings “followed similar patterns, in which they were either murdered by unidentified assailants or killed in the course of purported service of search or arrests warrants in police and military operations.”
Karapatan deemed extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration a “state policy”, especially with the arbitrary designation of peace consultants like Echanis as terrorists in a virtual hit list since 2018.
That year, Echanis was among the more than 600 names that the DOJ had petitioned for prescription and labeled them as terrorists under the now-repealed Human Security Act. The DOJ would later pare down the list to only eight people. In February 2019, the court said that only Jose Maria Sison and Antonio Cabanatan have “unassailable links” to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.
The law was replaced with the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 that no longer required proscription from the court for individuals or even groups to be designated as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), a body composed of heads of government agencies who are mostly presidential appointees. On May 13 this year, the ATC designated 19 individuals as terrorists, most of them peace consultants in the 2018 DOJ list later removed and a number of them in jail after being arrested after the peace talks were canceled.
“These killings […] only show that this campaign of red-tagging and terrorist-labeling, regardless of its legal consequences on paper, is a de facto death sentence. By targeting and murdering peace consultants and advocates, Duterte and his cabal of bloodthirsty war criminals have killed all prospects of just and lasting peace under this administration in service of State terror,” Karapatan said.