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Filipinos in UAE concerned about new travel rule by Philippines immigration

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI/ ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (UAE): Filipino expats expressed their concerns after the salary threshold for securing a supplementary travel document mandated by Philippine Immigration for a Filipino to bring a family member over to the UAE was revised.

The minimum salary required to acquire an Affidavit of Support and Guarantee (AoS), an attested letter issued to Filipino tourists as a proof that they have the support of their family during their stay in the UAE, was raised from Dh3,500 to Dh10,000 with effect from August 24, 2020.

The AoS is presented to Philippine immigration officials before travelers can fly to the UAE. It is, however, not required by UAE immigration authorities upon entry to the Emirates.

Revised policy

The Philippine missions in the UAE announced the new requirements for AoS on their website.

The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate in Dubai have yet to respond to requests for additional clarifications on the revised rule.

According to the revised policy, a Filipino residing in the UAE can execute an affidavit to sponsor a relative only within the first and second degree of consanguinity or affinity.

Aside from the proof of relationship, an expat who is single must show proof of having a Dh10,000 monthly income before he or she can sponsor a relative to visit the UAE.

Married couples or a family of two (either husband and wife or single parent and child) should have a combined income of Dh14,000; while a family of four (either a husband and wife with two children or a single parent with three children) should have a total income of Dh18,000.

The AoS stipulates that a Filipino sponsor is “gainfully employed or engaged in business” and holder of a valid UAE residence visa.

Other documentary requirements include sponsor’s employment contract duly issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation or employment contract verified by the Philippines Overseas Labour Office showing monthly income and salary pay slip issued during the last six months.

The Filipino sponsor should also submit a tenancy contract from the municipality under his/her name; or if tenancy contract is not under the name of the sponsor, a hotel booking duly stamped by the hotel or travel agency is needed.

Manila’s main gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (Image is for illustration purposes only.) Image Credit: File photo

What is AoS?

The document was introduced in 2002 by Philippine authorities to curb human trafficking. But it has been removed and reinstated several times following allegations of falsification and redundancy.

As per the AoS, a Filipino expat who is planning to bring a family member to the UAE is tendering a “guarantee that (he/she) shall provide all financial support to pay for the food, accommodation and travel, including airfare for the return journey, medication and hospitalization and other expenses, debts and obligations incurred including but not limited to immigration fines and penalties of the (visitor).”

Moreover, the AoS is a “guarantee that the (visitor) is visiting the UAE entirely for tourism and recreational purposes and is not visiting the UAE for (1) employment (2) seek employment (3) to transit via the UAE to another country where deployment of Filipino nationals is restricted or where deployment requires clearance or endorsement of relevant government departments and agencies in the Philippines.”

According to Sid Rivera, marketing manager at Al Qadi Tourism in Dubai, Philippines immigration officials routinely check the AoS of anyone travelling to the UAE. “But based on our experience, if you travel with a family member who is a UAE resident or you travel as a family, you need not show the AoS, which would cost the sponsor around Dh100,” he noted.

Rivera said they facilitate tourist visas for those who don’t have relatives in the UAE and those who earn less than Dh10,000. “Visitors like doctors and lawyers can travel even without AoS,” he added.

Travel infringement

Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law and an expert on Filipino migration, said that “the AoS is an infringement on a Filipino’s right to travel.”

“The only valid requirements to travel outside Philippines are passport and visa. It is up to the host country if they need proof that you have capacity to travel — like the United States does, which is very strict when it comes to issuing a visa,” Almazar pointed out.

Malou Prado, managing director of MPQ Travel & Tourism, said the revised requirement for AoS would affect her business.

“The salary requirement is very high and not many Filipinos will qualify for the threshold,” said Malou, adding: “But I also understand why our officials implemented it (AoS). Some Filipinos come here not for tourism, but to look for jobs and if they fail to find one, they would end up being stranded and it would become the responsibility of the Philippines government to bring them home.”

“But my business will definitely be affected as 90 per cent of my clients are Filipinos. So, I hope it (AoS) will be removed,” she added.

Meanwhile, Filipino expat Carlo Santos, who works as an office clerk, said: “Based on my salary, which is Dh5,000, I’m qualified to sponsor my wife who is in the Philippines, but the stipulation for AoS has now made it difficult for me to bring her over.” #

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This report is original to Gulf News.

Gov’t troops feed Aeta with human feces, groups report

Government soldiers forced an indigenous person to eat human feces during a military operation in San Marcelino, Zambales Province last August 21, groups reported.

The Umahon Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Umahon) and the Sandugo-Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination (Sandugo) said soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (76th IDPA) forced a certain Nalin Ramos to eat a soldier’s feces.

Ramos was among three Aeta residents, including relatives Witi Ramos and Jepoy Ramos, who were “physically assaulted, tortured and detained by the soldiers,” the groups said.

The three were also detained and hospitalized, Sandugo said. Upon their release, the three were too afraid to go home due to trauma and chose to stay at the evacuation center in Barangay Aglao in the said town.

“A total of 659 families evacuated due to repeated bombings of Aeta communities in Sitio Lumibao, San Marcelino,” Sandugo added.

Umahon said the soldiers wanted the Aeta community to evacuate their ancestral domain while they are pursuing suspected New People’s Army (NPA) guerillas in the area.

Four Philippine Army helicopters reportedly dropped bombs in the community.

The Angelite, the student newspaper of the Holy Angel University, reported that according to a chieftain of the said community, the 7th IDPA wanted the Aetas to evacuate so they could clear the area.

Community media group POKUS Gitnang Luzon reported there were no NPA guerillas caught in the operation.

Sandugo said the government troopers are liable under the anti-torture law for their “evil” and “inhumane” treatment of the Aetas.

“The acts of the 7th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines reeks of evilness. Their recent actions against our Aeta brothers and sisters are inhuman. It is pure evil, only demons would have the conscience to do this,” Sandugo said.

The group added the 7th ID’s bombardment of the IP community was meant to drive away the Aetas and pave the way for mining explorations by the Dizon Copper-Silver Mines, Inc.

The Aeta residents oppose the project to proted the environment and their ancestral lands, Sandugo said. Sandugo called on the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the incidents and demanded the soldiers’ pull out from the Aeta community. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Paramilitary destroys Lumad school; leader invokes Duterte in attack

A paramilitary group destroyed an indigenous people’s school in Bukidnon Province last Wednesday, August 26, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network reported.

The Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) Academy in Sitio Laburon, Brgy. Matupe, San Fernando was attacked and destroyed by around 50 members of paramilitary group ‘Bagani’, the network said in an alert Saturday.

The group said two teachers tending to the school farm were alerted by students at around 7:15 in the morning that armed men have trespassed the school campus.

The school—repeatedly accused by government forces as a New People’s Army training facility—is 15-minutes away from the farm.

The teachers saw the paramilitary group destroying the school buildings and tearing up textbooks.  

The destroyed teachers’ quarters. (SOS photo)

“The teachers were about to take photos of the incident but were threatened by the ‘Bagani’ leader Lito Gambay, who told them to leave as President (Rodrigo) Duterte will know about this,” the SOS said.

Students and community members cried out of frustration as their school was being destroyed before their eyes, the SOS added.

The two school buildings and teachers’ cottage was built in 2007 from donations by the European Union Aid for uprooted people.

The main school building after the attack. (SOS photo)

The SOS said the ‘Bagani’ paramilitary is under the command of the 89th Infantry Battalion Bravo Company of the Philippine Army which has set up camp in Brgy. Kalagangan, San Fernando, 30-minutes away from the school.

“The Save Our Schools condemns in strongest terms the unabated destruction and closure of Lumad schools in Mindanao. As of August 2020, around 178 lumad schools are now forcibly closed,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Another view of the destroyed school building after the attack. (SOS photo)

People’s Initiative for an ABS-CBN franchise gets underway

A group of neighbors and friends from Rizal Province were the first ones to submit signatures for a People’s Initiative for an ABS-CBN franchise.

Motoring from Barangay Sta. Cruz,  Antipolo City to ABS-CBN’s Sgt. Esguerra gate Friday morning. August 28, the group led by Marcia Cruz submitted signatures of registered voters in support of the campaign.

Five filled-up sheets were received by representatives of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Defend Jobs Philippines (DFP) and employees of the embattled network.

The People’s Initiative is a power given by the 1987 Philippine Constitution to the people to directly initiate laws such as franchises.  

Cruz said they were requested by her sister living in Canada to download forms on the Pirma Kapamilya Facebook page and ask family members, friends and neighbors to sign.

She added that her sister was saddened by ABS-CBN’s forced closure that now deprive them of news and entertainment from their home country.

“Napakalaking tulong ng ABS-CBN sa kanila sa ibang bansa dahil ang The Filipino Channel lang ang pinapanood nila para sa balita,” Cruz said.

She explained it was easy gathering the 75 signatures they submitted as none of those they asked refused to sign.

“Wala pong pilitan. Lahat po sa amin ay gustong maibalik ang ABS-CBN,” she said.

The NUJP and DFP set up a signing booth this morning and gathered about a hundred signatures in about an hour.

ABS-CBN employees, pedestrians, taxi drivers and ambulant vendors around the network compound also signed.

Across the street where she tends a small snack store, Iluminada Cos crossed the street to ask if she could sign.

Cos said she wanted to express her support to ABS-CBN workers who have been her customers for many years.

“Marami sa kanila ay matagal ko nang kilala dahil sa akin sila bumibili ng miryenda. Sana maibalik ang ABS-CBN,” she said.

Today is the last day of work for hundreds of ABS-CBN employees who became victims of the second wave of retrenchments after the network was denied a new franchise by House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises last July 10.

The network also announced that today is the last day of its Regional Network Group.

The NUJP bewailed the development and called on Filipino journalists to stand together in “warding off the darkness.”

“Today, August 28, 2020, the light goes out on one of the cornerstones of independent community journalism in the country as ABS-CBN’s regional stations air their final newscasts after more than 30 years of dedicated service,” the group in a statement said.

“Today, hundreds of our colleagues, among them our members, lose their jobs, joining the thousands more stripped of employment after the legislative lapdogs of a vindictive president shut down the country’s largest network by denying it a new franchise,” it added.

The NUJP said the closure of ABS-CBN’s regional stations also deprives many millions of Filipinos throughout the country of a major source of credible news and information even as the national struggles against the pandemic.

It added that the earlier shutdown of ABS-CBN’s free TV and radio had already deprived people living in areas that could access only their signal their only source of news and information about the country and the world.

“It is clear that democracy is under siege, by the government no less, as seen in the relentless assaults on the critical and independent media, and the continuing attacks on the people’s basic rights and freedoms,” the NUJP said.

The first filled up sheets of People’s Initiative for an ABS-CBN franchise were from the First District of Rizal Province.

Started by a group of young lawyers who disagreed with the House of Representatives’s denial of a new ABS-CBN’s franchise, the Pirma Kapamilya campaign seeks to gather seven million signatures from among registered and active voters from all congressional districts in the country.

The signatures will be submitted to the Commission on Elections for verification. The poll body will also determine if the signatures represent at least three percent of registered voters in each district.

Once passed in a referendum, an ABS-CBN franchise cannot be overturned by either Congress or the President, Pirma Kapamilya said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UN condemns Echanis and Alvarez killings; Randall tortured, stabbed to death

The United Nations (UN) human rights office condemned the torture and assassination of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randall Echanis and the murder of veteran rights defender Zara Alvarez.

In a statement Friday, August 21, spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Liz Throssell in Geneva said they are “saddened and appalled by the ongoing violence and threats” against human rights defenders in the Philippines.

While welcoming the statement from Malacanan Palace denouncing “any form of violence perpetuated against citizens, including activists,” Throssell noted that both Echanis and Alvarez had been repeatedly “red-tagged” – labelled as communists or terrorists – in relation to their work.

“We have raised our concerns with the Government and the Commission on Human Rights on these cases, and look forward to continuing to engage with them,” Throssell said, calling on the Rodrigo Duterte administration to ensure that relevant agencies cooperate fully with investigations by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) of the Philippines.

The UN OHCHR’s statement came after an autopsy report was released indicating that Echanis was heavily and lengthily tortured before being killed last October 10 in his rented apartment in Novaliches, Quezon City.

‘Politically motivated’

In an online press conference yesterday, University of the Philippines College of Medicine forensic pathologist Dr. Racquel Fortun announced the preliminary results of the autopsy conducted on Echanis’ remains.

Fortun said that Echanis died of stab wounds on his aorta, heart and esophagus.

The stab wounds delivered on the victim’s back produced a huge hematoma or collection of blood in the chest which was not survivable, according to Fortun. 

“Echanis also sustained blunt force trauma in some portions of his head. He had lacerations and contusions on his face. He had sharp injuries on his trunk which were mostly on the back part of his body,” Anakpawis, of which Echanis was chairperson at the time of his murder, said in a statement.

“He also sustained sharp force trauma or stab wounds possibly made by a long-bladed weapon. He also had pointed puncture wounds,” the farmers’ group added.

Fortun said that the big injury on Echanis’ left lower back near the seventh rib had a foreign object — a sharp metal forcefully impaled on his back that penetrated and struck his aorta, the main artery of the heart that carries blood to the rest of the body.

The said injury to the aorta caused Echanis’ death, she added.

Fortun explained it was likely that three kinds of weapons were used to torture and kill Echanis, including an icepick-like weapon and a knife, also indicating there may have been more than one killer.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chairperson Danilo Ramos said Echanis death was brutal and heinous.

“His death was not just a case of robbery-gone-wrong nor was Ka Randy (Echanis) just a collateral damage as claimed by the (Philippine National Police). Ka Randy was a target. His killing was planned and premeditated. He also suffered torture in the hands of his killers,” Ramos said.

Echanis was also KMP deputy secretary for external affairs at the time of his death.

Ramos added that given Echanis’ long record of activism and stature as a peasant advocate and peace consultant, only state forces and mercenaries have the motives and means to kill him.

Red-tagging victims

Like Echanis, Alvarez was also a veteran activist and rights defender and was included in the list of 649 the Duterte government sought to designate as terrorists last March 28.

“While the list was later truncated, many who were removed from the list, including Alvarez, continued to report harassment and threats, as highlighted in the High Commissioner’s human rights report on the Philippines published in June this year,” Throssell’s statement said.

Throssell reported that Alvarez’s photo also appeared in a publicly displayed poster purporting to depict terrorists that is cited in High Commissioner Michelle Bachellet’s report at the UN Human Rights Commission’s 44th General Session in Geneva.

She noted that Alvarez was pictured alongside two other Negros Island human rights defenders who had been killed – Benjamin Ramos Jr. and Bernardino Patigas – both of whose murder cases remain unsolved.

Alvarez had also spent two years in prison on murder charges before she was acquitted in March this year for lack of evidence.

Throssell added that after Alvarez was killed, her colleague Clarizza Singson received a death threat on Facebook warning her that she would be next.

“This is particularly worrying as Singson’s name also appeared on the abovementioned list of suspected terrorists and her photo is included in the same poster,” Throssell said.

Thorough investigation

The UN Human Rights Office stressed the need for “independent, thorough and transparent investigations” into the killings.

Aside from making those responsible to be held to account, the international agency also demanded effective measures to protect other at-risk human rights defenders and to halt and condemn incitement to hatred against them.”

The KMP also demanded “a thorough, credible, and independent investigation” on Echanis’ killing.  

The KMP echoed UN’s call, demanding the entire truth must come out in the investigations. 

“The CHR, aided by experts, can conduct the investigation. We do not trust the PNP to conduct the investigation. Their handling of the crime scene and crucial pieces of evidence is weak,” Ramos said.

The PNP even attempted to dispute the identity of Echanis, and downplay the incident as a common crime and not politically-motivated,” Ramos added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP assigns Julie de Lima as interim peace panel chairperson

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has assigned Juliet de Lima as interim chairperson of its Negotiating Panel following the death of former chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili last month.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison told Kodao that de Lima is the most senior and most available among the members of the Left’s peace panel.

Sison added that de Lima, his wife, is also the “most secure for relating to the third party facilitator with matters pertaining to the NDFP section of the Joint Secretariat and Joint Monitoring Committee of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).”

Established in June 2004, the Joint Secretariat is tasked, among others, to receive and investigate complaints of human rights violations.

The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) has refused to hold offices in the Joint Secretariat’s Cubao, Quezon City headquarters for several years already, however.

Signed by both parties in March 1998, the CARHRIHL is the first of four substantive agenda on the peace talks based on The 1992 GRP-NDFP Hague Joint Declaration.

The three other substantive agenda are social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces.

The Royal Norwegian Government has been the third party facilitator of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations since 2002.

The NDFP Negotiating Panel includes Coni Ledesma, Asterio Palima and Benito Tiamzon.

It has been engaged in on-off peace negotiations with the Philippine government since 1986 after the downfall of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

‘No rush to appoint replacements’

Sison also told Kodao in an online interview that there is no rush to appoint replacements to Agcaoili and NDFP Negotiating Panel Reciprocal Working Committee vice chairperson Randall Echanis who has brutally murdered last August 10.

Sison said that the lack of peace negotiations while Duterte is in power is temporary and will not last long.

“The National Council of the NDFP has enough time to complete the NDFP Negotiating Panel with the replacements of Ka Fidel and Ka Randy and revitalizing the working committees before peace negotiations will probably resume after (GRP President Rodrigo) Duterte is gone,” Sison said.

Duterte shall end his six-year term in June 2022.

“The broad united front against Duterte expects that his successor will opt for peace negotiations,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bishop grieves for slain Church and rights worker

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza expressed grief at the brutal murder of church worker and human rights defender Zara Alvarez in Bacolod City Monday night, August 17, calling the victim his “dear little child of struggle.”

“I bleed of this never-ending injustice and violence, someone closest in my work with the oppressed is murdered. I just cannot believe this continuing madness of senseless killings!” Alminaza said in a statement.

“These systemic killings of human rights defenders and activists must be condemned and must stop! Our responsible agencies must pursue justice and accountability on those responsible and should never allow impunity of criminals doing senseless executions of Filipinos!” the Bishop cried.

Alvarez, a victim of terrorist-tagging by the Rodrigo Duterte government, was shot to death while on her way home. She was 39 years old and survived by an 11-year old daughter.

Alminaza said the victim was tagged as a terrorist in a case filed before the Department of Justice in 2018. Her name was eventually deleted from the list but she continued to receive death threats from suspected state forces.

The prelate said the threats has resulted in Alvarez’s violent death “widely deemed as another case of extrajudicial killing, in pursuance of the state’s anti-terrorism campaign.”

“Zara is a human rights champion in the Negros island, an activist, organizer and ecumenical church worker. Her active involvement in the Church People -Workers Solidarity is worthy of emulation – always reminding us to be prophetic in our work of evangelization and social justice,” Alminaza described the victim.

A very personal tribute

In his statement, the Bishop recalled the victim’s “brave words” in an interview by UCANEWS in 2019, saying that because of her work of pursuing justice for the victims of human rights violations, “receiving death threats has already become one small part of [their] work…”

“Just last night, Zara Alvarez took the bullets from her assassin. Those who wanted to silence a woman of dedicated service for the poor, yes, they murdered her,” he said.

The Bishop further wrote:

“Zara, they imprisoned you of fabricated charges; yet, you were declared innocent by the court.

“Zara, they are afraid of you; though a petite woman yet capable of condemning injustice and ever-ready to organize farmers, peasants, workers, jeepney drivers and even church people.

“Zara, they took your life, believing that they can silence the cause you are fighting for… But no, Zara, your martyrdom in the cause for justice will inspire us to advance the cry for justice – the cry of the oppressed.

“Zara, you are a courageous witness in the cause for social justice.

“As you said: I cannot leave everything behind while everyone I know is being killed…’”

The Bishop, who last year ordered the nightly ringing of all church bells in his diocese and issuing an oratio imperata to call for an end to the killings of farmers and activists in Negros Island, also said he is grateful for having known the victim.

“I thank the Lord for knowing you, Zara, my dear little child of struggle. I promise to ever continue our work in the service of God’s poor. You inspired me in many ways to be a pastor of the anawim of God’s kingdom,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

European activists condemn Duterte government for Echanis’ murder

By Macel Ingles

OSLO, Norway—A Norwegian peace advocate and International Committee member of the Red Party in Norway said the slay of a National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)  consultant to the peace talks has eroded the international community´s trust in President Rodrigo Duterte’s role to achieve peace.

“Duterte´s time is vanishing. His credibility to be part and address political solutions over the big conflict in the Philippines has crumbled,” Arnljøt Ask of Norway’s Red Party said in an online protest rally and tribute to the late peasant leader and social activist Randall Echanis last Sunday, August 10.

“I can see that the fascist Duterte regime gave priority to murder this man instead of taking him to prison like Marcos and other presidents we encountered to earlier, This consistent, honest and persuading, social activist, peasant leader and peace advocate gathered support in broad circles, a killer like Duterte could not put up with that, he therefore hoped to silence him,” Ask added.

Ask revealed he only met Echanis once at a peace talk meeting in Oslo but he said he remembered his “friendly” and “determined” face.

Arnljøt Ask of Norway’s Red Party

Norway serves as the third party facilitator to the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP,

Most of the formal rounds of peace negotiations were held in Oslo.

Ask, a founding member of the Filipino Resource Center in this city, joined other fellow Philippine solidarity activists in paying tribute to Echanis and condemning his murder under the Duterte regime.

“For the solidarity movement in Norway, Ka Randall´s passing away through this terrorist act will enforce our strength, will force our efforts to strengthen our work to contribute to the fulfillment of the task Ka Randall dedicated his life to, so also supporters of justice and real democracy will act all over,” Ask added.

Aside from Ask, other international solidarity leaders attended the online event including Dutch youth activist Tom de Koning of the Revolutionaire Enheid in the Netherlands who sent his condolences to Echanis´comrades and family in the Philippines and paid tribute to his contribution to the people´s struggle.

“With comrade Randy in our hearts and minds, we will remember his genuine commitment to the Filipino people, the revolution and his special contribution to the struggle for genuine agrarian reform. We will remember Ka Randy like so many other comrades who had been in prison several times and he was never afraid to make the sacrifices in order to defend the people,s democratic revolution,” Koning told fellow activists and peace advocates in the online protest.

Italian activist Alessio Arena of the Fronte Populare and the International League of People´s Struggle (ILPS) in Italy also condemned Echanis´ killing.

“I would like to join in condemning the barbaric murder of comrade Randy Echanis and to offer my condolences to his family, comrades and friends. The murder of Ka Randy extends the blood trail drawn in recent months by the massacre of leaders and representatives of the mass movement in Philippines. The blood of Ka Randy and other martyrs/victims fall on the criminal Duterte regime and the imperialists of which it is a servant to,” Arena said in the online tribute.

Arena met Echanis at the peace talks meetings held in Rome where he came to hear him speak about his work on genuine agrarian reform issues and mass work in the Philippines.

From Luxembourg, Julie Smit of the People´s Coalition for Food Security exhorted solidarity organizations and comrades in Europe to support the Filipino people in their struggle for peace and justice in the Philippines.

“We need to turn outrage, this grief we have, into action. It is all we can do to continue the work of Ka Randy, to continue to fight, to support the Filipino people and to fight for justice so that we can arrive at the rainbow´s end,” Smits said.

“These people who have given their lives, they earn our deepest respect. I think it is our responsibility who are living to continue doing what we can to expose, the violent repression that is pretty escalating now under the Duterte administration,” she added.

Smits worked for 20 years in the Philippines for a Luxembourg NGO working on peasant issues and joined the solidarity movement for the Philippines after her stint in the country.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison and interim head of the NDFP Negotiating Panel Julie De Lima also sent a video message in the online tribute condemning Echanis killing and vowing to obtain justice for his death.

Besides messages of condolences and support from the international solidarity organizations from various countries in Europe, the online protest was also joined by several Filipino organizations and peace advocates including messages from Zaria Galiano of International Migrant Alliance (IMA), trade unions and human rights activist from the UK, Rommel Abellar, Filipino scholar in Universite Catholique Louvain, Phoebe Zoe Maria Sanchez, Seyra Rico of AnakBayan Europe, Migrante Europe, Ugnayang ng mga Pilipino sa Belgium (UPB), and the Filipino Resource Center (FRC) in Norway.

The online tribute also featured videos of the late peace advocate´s life and struggle with the Filipino peasant organizations and his role in the peace advocacy in Europe as senior consultant to the NDFP´s Negotiating Panel in the peace talks.

His favorite song, Moon River, as revealed by his wife Linda Lacaba, was also played in the tribute with not a few tears shed in his memory by those who attended the event.

The participants also lit candles and observed two minutes of silence to honor Echanis. #

Randall Echanis: Funny guy who was serious at the negotiating table

The many facets of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randall Echanis surfaced in the various tributes paid him since his gruesome murder a week ago today. Incongruous with his brutal death, the tributes pictured a tender and humorous person not beyond cracking jokes at this own expense or finding himself in funny situations. He was also a writer of some of the revolutionary Left’s most beloved poems and songs, even indulging comrades with the occasional singing and performances.

Detained three times and heavily tortured by three regimes in the past five decades, a stranger would be forgiven to assume that “Ka Randy” was a humorless person. But he definitely was not.

“Randall had a refreshing wry humor and was funny even without trying,” NDFP Negotiating Panel legal consultant Edre Olalia wrote on his first tribute to his long-time colleague in the peace negotiations with various administrations. Olalia recalled an episode in 2011 that Randall had to hold it long enough at the Utrecht train station because he had no Euro coins to pay to use the Wash Closet.

“I fondly recall how ‘brothers’ Fidel (Agcaoili, recently departed NDFP chief negotiator) and Randall engaged in unceasing juvenile banter and comradely taunts during idle moments or breaks in intense negotiations and serious consultations,” Olalia said. “And we had our own naughty private jokes and codes. And he can be gullible and childlike I tell you. But he is sharp and firm as could be. Simpleng tao pero matalim magsuri,” he added. (A simple person but sharp in his analysis.)

Ka Randy’s funny episodes continued up to the last formal talks he attended in Europe, this time with the Rodrigo Duterte government in January 2017.

Lawyer Kristina Conti recalled: “Isang araw, may break sa pagitan ng mga miting at dinner. May mga naka-tropa ako, nag-aya gumala, para ma-refresh daw ang utak. Kasi may miting ulit sa gabi. Nagkayayaan tingnan yung sunset, ‘dun sa may beach. Para makarating ‘dun kelangan dumaan sa isang hotel. ‘Sosyal naman dito,’ sabi ni Ka Randall. ‘Mag-picture muna tayo. Hehehe.’ Hala sila, sige pose-pose, ganda nga naman ng lighting. ‘Tapos batsi na, di tayo bagay dito,’ he said” Conti wrote.

Ka Randy having his photo taken at a hotel lobby during a break in the peace negotiations (Photo from Atty Kristina Conti)

[“One day, during a break between meetings and dinner, my companions proposed a walk to freshen their tired minds. There would be more meetings that night. The wanted to watch the sunset at the nearby beach. Along the way was a hotel. ‘It looks expensive here,’ Ka Randall said. ‘Let us have our pictures taken.’ Then he posed, and the lighting was good. ‘It’s time to leave. We don’t belong here,’ he said.”]

Ka Randy earned some ribbing from his colleagues one time when someone used a lighter hair dye on the silver-haired negotiator. “Kapag may chance iyan siya, nagpapa-tina ng buhok kasi marami na siyang puting buhok. Minsan, bago mag peace talks, nagpakulay siya ng buhok. Kulay brown ang lumabas,” Maureen Hermitanio recalled.

[If he had the chance, he had his hair dyed, as he has lots of white hair already. One time, it turned out brown.]

Echanis seemed to be a different person on the negotiating table, however, his NDFP Reciprocal Working Group on Social and Economic Reforms colleagues said. “Ka Randy was a funny guy, cracking jokes with poker face, which made his jokes even funnier. But he never joked around the formal negotiations, even if we knew it could have thawed some tensions. When asked why he was so serious at the peace table, he would simply say that peasants have sacrificed even their lives for the attainment of genuine agrarian reform. ‘It’s not a joke,’ he said,” Rosabella Guzman, resource person to the peace negotiations, wrote.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said Echanis played a key role in the drafting of documents on agrarian reform and rural development, one that will be a basis of a future Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Reforms between the Left and the government. “He was outstanding as an advocate of genuine land reform, rural development and national industrialization. He was the National Chairperson of the Anakpawis Party List and Deputy Secretary General of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and was a leading consultant of the NDFP on agrarian reform and member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms,” Sison wrote.

Poet, songwriter

Not much known to younger activists was the fact the Echanis was himself a poet and songwriter.

During his third imprisonment under the Gloria Arroyo regime, Echanis wrote the poem “Hindi Ko Kayo Titigilan” inside the Manila City in December 2008. He was released in 2010 and have since participated in the first and only formal talks with the Benigno Aquino administration in January 2011.

He also participated in formal negotiations in Europe and in the Philippines between 2016 and 2018.

In one of the tributes to Echanis, cultural worker Edgie Uyanguren rendered the song “Sa Paglayo Ay May Paglalapit Din,” a song co-wrote by Echanis with Ramon Ayco. Written in Cagayan Valley in 1979, the song was beloved by revolutionaries and activists alike.

In a gathering after the first formal talks between the NDFP and the Duterte government in 2016, Echanis performed an Ilokano revolutionary songs with fellow peace consultants from Northern Philippines, Kennedy Bangibang and Randy Malayao. Malayao himself was assassinated in January 2019.

Randall Echanis singing with fellow NDFP peace consultants from Northern Luzon.

‘Positive, calm and objective’

Echanis is most intimately remembered by younger agrarian reform activists as a positive and objective leader, a calming presence in the face of adversity.

Amihan Euza Mabalay recalled that Ka Randy was always encouraging to them as student land reform activists. “Laging constructive ang mga komento niya. Kahit ang UP Manila ang pinaka kaunting bilang ng miyembro, hindi ako napanghinaan ng loob nilang chair ng chapter dahil sa mga salita niya,” she wrote upon learning of Echanis’ death. Mabalay was National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates-Youth (NNARA-Youth) University of the Philippines-Manila Chapter chairperson in her student days.

[His comments were always constructive. Even if the UP Manila chapter had the least number of members, I was never discouraged as chapter leader because of his encouraging words.]

She recalled further a t-shirt printing project they did in her senior year. “’Ang ganda! Pulang-pula ano, Amihan?’” Hindi naman sobrang ganda ng t-shirt na ‘yun pero ramdam namin na may pumuri sa pinagpaguran namin, hindi lang sa t-shirt kundi sa pag-oorganisa sa mga kapwa namin estudyante para sa buong taon o higit pa. Ilang beses nya din yun inulit-ulit kapag nagkikita kami habang nasa NRY pa ako,” she said.

[‘It’s beautiful! It’s very red, right Amihan?’ The t-shirt was not exceptional, in fact. But I felt that someone appreciated our efforts, not just in the production of the shirts but in our organizing of fellow students that entire year and beyond. He repeated the compliment when we saw each other while I was still with NNARA-Youth.]

Mabalay said Echanis was always appreciative of every initiative, effort and sacrifice, both to students and veteran activists like himself. He was never one to let anger get the better of him, even during heated discussions. She added that she liked when Echanis was present in meetings as the good points were duly appreciated and weaknesses were pointed out.

“He gave everyone a chance, based on the principles of serving the people. That’s why I called him Tatang (father),” she said in Filipino.

Echanis was buried at noontime today at the Loyola Memorial Gardens in Marikina City. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Due to public pressure and clamor, DepEd moves school opening to October 5

By Joseph Cuevas

The Department of Education (DepEd) announced last Friday, August 14, the postponement of school opening originally set on August 24, 2020 to October 5, 2020.

According to DepEd, the memorandum given by the Office of the President to defer school opening to October 5 is pursuant to Republic Act No. 11480.

DepEd will use the deferment to provide relief to the logistical limitations faced by the areas placed under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine and to fill in the remaining gaps of the school opening it is currently addressing.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers ACT said that DepEd’s decision was brought about by “very valid and sound arguments which the agency can no longer deny.”

“We have proven today that the people’s voices can and will triumph, and we shall continue to push the government to fulfill the requisites for a safe, accessible, and quality education,” ACT said in a statement.

The group added that preparedness at the minimum means a 1:1 module set to pupil ratio ready for distribution by August 24, a 1:1 ratio of laptop to teachers, internet subsidy to teachers and learners, health screening and PPEs for teachers, and medical fund for free treatment if they get infected with COVID-19.

ACT said it received complaints from school heads about the late release of funds from the DepEd Central office as well as depleted school funds for module printing.

The central office only released funds and utilization guidelines for module reproduction on the latter half of July, ACT said.

ACT photo

Many school heads said that the P9 billion downloaded funds from the central office have not yet reached the school level resulting in the failure to deliver the needed modules any day earlier than October given the stringent procurement rules and lengthy processes, the group added.

ACT said that DepEd has not given any assistance to teachers specifically responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that they are not asking beyond “hard-won and hard-earned benefits and entitlements of personnel, as well as already apportioned funds even before the health crisis.”

October 5 falls on International Teachers Day.

Better aid, wage subsidy for private school teachers

ACT-Private Schools also called on the government to support displaced private school teachers and personnel nationwide as the House of Representatives is set to finalize the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (BARO) Part 2.

ACT-Private Schools secretary-general Jonathan Geronimo said that even with a one-time cash assistance of five to eight thousand pesos will not rectify the past six months of state neglect, and will not at all suffice to cover their needs.

Geronimo challenged the Rodrigo Duterte administration to help educators, particularly the “long ignored private education sector nationwide” by granting a decent amount covering the months of COVID-19 lockdowns.

ACT Private Schools demanded the following:

(1) Better and more dignified aid,

(2) wage subsidy to teachers and staff,

(3) zero-interest loans for small to medium-sized private schools to sustain their operations, and

(4) an allocation of funds for the health and safety of private school teachers and personnel. #