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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)

Land rights activists confront Irene Marcos-Araneta

Land rights activists Angelo Suarez and Donna Miranda chanced upon Irene Marcos-Araneta at a Sunday market in Quezon City last September 15 and confronted the late dictator’s daughter.

Suarez and Miranda said it is ironic that Marcos-Araneta is buying vegetables when the Araneta family is grabbing land from vegetable farmers in San Juan del Monte City, Bulacan.

The couple also pointed out that the Marcos family has yet to apologize to the victims of the late dictator Ferdinand’s martial law, including Suarez’s father, a journalist. (Video by Raymund Villanueva/Kodao)

‘October Resistance’: Farmers protest human rights violations

Hundreds of farmers and activists commemorate Peasant Month with a series of activities they call ‘October Resistance,’ in obvious reference to the so-called Red October plot the military tried selling off as a plan oust President Rodrigo Duterte.

Led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), a rally was held from University of Santo Tomas to Mendiola last Friday to call for an end to poverty, hunger as well “state fascism” by the Duterte government.

Protest actions were also launched in Tuguegarao City, Tagbilaran City, Laguna, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Bukidnon, Davao City and Cagayan de Oro.

The farmers said they demand genuine land reform, free land distribution and the pull-out of military troops from communities.

They also want to end land-grabbing and land use conversion schemes as well as a stop to plantations all over the country.

KMP Chairperson Danilo Ramos said that the ‘Red October’ plot scare of the government aims to justify human rights violations and intensify crackdown against peasant activists and organizers.

The group decried the recent human rights violations perpetrated by state forces. Among these is the killing of Jaime Delos Santos, chairman of the fisherfolk PAMALAKAYA (affiliated member of KMP) in Guihulngan Negros Oriental last October 6, as well as the killing of Victor Villafranca, also member of PAMALAKAYA’s HABAGAT or Haligi ng Batanguenong Anakdagat in Lian Batangas, last October 13.

They also assailed the violent dispersal of their camp out at the Department of Agrarian Reform last Thursday. # (Report and video by Joseph Cuevas with Maricon Montajes)

 

‘October Resistance’ isasagawa ng mga magsasaka

Isang press conference noong Oktubre 8 ang isinagawa nang Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas o KMP at mga kaanib na organisasyon nito upang i-anunsyo ang kanilang pagkilos na tinaguriang “October Resistance against poverty, hunger and state fascism.”

Bilang bahagi ng buwan ng mga magsasaka ngayong Oktubre, iba’t-ibang aktibidad ang kanilang isasagawa bitbit ang panawagang tunay na reporma sa lupa, libreng pamamahagi ng lupa sa mga magsasaka, pagkontrol sa mga presyo ng bigas at iba pang bilhin gayundin ang pagtigil sa militarisasyon at paglabag sa karapatang tao sa kanayunan.

Ayon naman sa Amihan (Pambansang Pederasyon ng mga Kababaihang Magsasaka), lumalala ang kalagayan ng mga magsasaka at kababaihang magbubukid. Imbes na ibigay sa mga magsasaka ang lupain, inilaan pa ito sa ekspansyon ng mga plantasyon, malawakang pagmimina at land use conversion ang iba sa mga malaking kumpanya at panginoong maylupa.

Giit pa ng Amihan, walang plano si Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte para sa pagpapaunlad ng agrikultura at pamimigay ng lupa sa mga magsasaka.

Mariin naman nilang binatikos ang pakanang ‘Red October’ ng gubyernong Duterte at Armed Forces of the Philippines at sinabing layunin lamang nito na takutin at pahupain ang tumitinding galit ng sambayanan dahil sa walang-awat na taas presyo ng mga bilihin at serbisyo dulot ng Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law o TRAIN Law.

Binigyan nila ng halimbawa ang patuloy na pampulitikang panunupil at “red tagging” sa mga organisasyon at aktibista.

Patuloy din ang pagsasampa ng mga gawa-gawang kaso laban sa mga lider magsasaka kabilang na ang tagapangulo ng KMP sa Northern Mindanao na si Ereneo Ubarde at 33 iba pang lider sa rehiyon, gayundin ang pag-aresto kay Gerry Basahon, lider ng Misamis Oriental Farmers Association na kaanib ng KMP noong Oktubre 4, ani ng mga grupo.

Kinundena din nila ang pinakahuling kaso nang pamamaslang noong Oktubre 6 sa tagapangulo ng PAMALAKAYA sa Negros Oriental na si Jaime Delos Santos.

Dagdag pa ng KMP, kapag patuloy na tumindi ang atake nang rehimen tiyak na tatapatan ito ng paglaban nang taumbayan. Nakatakda ang kanilang malakihang pagkilos ng mga magsasaka sa Oktubre 19 sa ibat-ibang panig ng bansa. # (Bidyo at ulat ni Joseph Cuevas/Larawan ni Jinky Mendoza-Aguilar)

Farmers call for genuine land distribution on CARP’s 30th anniversary

Sa ika-tatlumpung anibersaryo ng Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), nagmartsa ang mga magsasaka at iba pang anakpawis, sa pangunguna ng Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, patungong Mendiola.

Ipananawagan ng KMP ang tunay na pamamahagi ng lupa sa mga magsasaka at kinondena naman ang kabiguan ng CARP na  lutasin ang kawalan ng lupa ng nakararaming magsasaka sa bansa.

Dagdag pa rito ay ang pagpapataw ng mga gawa-gawang kaso at pang-aalipusta sa mga magsasaka at mga manggagawa sa kanayunan, ayon sa KMP.

LakbayMagsasaka reaches Mendiola; peasants vow to ‘occupy’ more land

Thousands of farmers from all over the country marched to Mendiola today at the culmination of their month-long Lakbay Magsasaka national peasant caravan and vowing to defeat the Rodrigo Duterte government’s “fascism”.

About 5,000 farmers, many of whom earlier joined the Lakbayan ng Visayas ang Lakbay Paraoma in Bicol arrived at the National Capital Region Monday to demand genuine land reform and an end to the killings of peasants.

“Today, the Filipino peasant masses vow to further our struggle for genuine land reform through more vigorous land occupation and collective cultivation. Our campaign to dismantle land monopoly, haciendas and plantations will continue and expand on a nationwide scale,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) secretary general Antonio Flores said.

The nationwide peasant caravans culminate today in a major mobilization at Mendiola, delivering a strong message to President Duterte against the government’s fascism.

“To the madman in Malacanang, we tell you this: you will never win against the Filipino people. The wars that you launched against us–Oplan Tokhang, Oplan Kapayapaan and martial law in Mindanao—will all fail. Your regime will soon be exposed as one that is fragile, unstable and easy to overthrow,” Flores said.

KMP said 91 farmer leaders and members of peasant organizations have been summarily killed under the 15-month old Duterte government.

“The ultimate sacrifice of the 91 farmers and land reform advocates who were killed in the name of their struggle for land will not be in vain. We demand justice for all the victims of peasant political killings and extrajudicial killings,” Flores said.

The KMP said its collective cultivation campaign has already covered of thousands of hectares outside of the government’s land reform program, noting farmers are already tilling Lupang Kapdula, Lupang Ramos, Hacienda Roxas, Hacienda Luisita, Hacienda Peralta, Hacienda Larrazabal, Hacienda Manubay, Hacienda Uy, Hacienda Dolores, Hacienda Gancayco, Hacienda Yulo and other medium to big landholdings across the country.

“We enjoin all landless farmers and farm workers to occupy and till abandoned lands and properties. A DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform)-sponsored land reform would never work for us. We must assert our own genuine agrarian reform program,” Flores said.

“We will continue to assert genuine land reform, one hectare at a time. We will persevere in our land cultivation activities to achieve a self-sustaining agricultural production that will lay the foundations for genuine rural development,” he added.

Duterte effigy “Dut-in-Boot” being rolled to Mendiola to be burned by participants of Lakbay Magsasaka. (Photo by Kathy Yamzon)

KMP said organized peasants will defeat Duterte’s tyranny through their collective struggle for genuine land reform and resistance to militarization and state-sponsored political killings.

Farmers and peasant leaders from Central Luzon, Cordillera, Southern Luzon, Central and Eastern Visays, Negros, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao and Western Mindanao participated in the Lakbayan who will lead in the burning of another Duterte’s effigy called “Duts-In-Boot.”

KMP said similar protest actions are taking place in the cities of Iloilo, Tandag, Butuan, Surigao, Davao, Bacolod, Tuguegarao and Cebu. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)  

PNP blocks Bicol farmers’ caravan

Hundreds of farmer-activists from Bicol complained of harassment when members of the Quezon Province police blocked their caravan on its way to Manila Sunday night.

The Provincial Public Safety Company-6th Maneuver Platoon of the Philippine National Police (PNP) blocked Lakbay Paraoma’s 28 buses, a jeep and a van at around 7:30 last night led by a certain Major Morillo in Barangay Talipan, Pagbilao in Quezon province.

Lakbay Paraoma is the Bicol Region contingent of the ongoing nationwide Lakbay Magsasaka to Metro Manila for a series of events demanding genuine agrarian reform.

In the convoy was the vehicle of Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao who joined the peasant caravan from Bicol to Manila.

The PNP issued traffic violation tickets against the 28 caravan bus drivers who they alleged were not wearing seatbelts.

Two bus drivers signed the tickets and were fined PhP5,000 each while the others refused, saying they were wearing seatbelts.

Bus driver Dude Villareal admitted he was not wearing a seatbelt but insisted it was harassment to derail the caravan.

“We will continue to fight for the rights of the farmers. The PNP will always find ways, such as issuing bogus violations to silence the protesters,” Bert Author, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bicol (KMB-KMP), said.

While negotiations were ongoing, caravan participants cooked dinner and threatened to stage an impromptu rally should the PNP refused to let them through.

The PNP subsequently revoked the traffic violation citations, saying it was a mere misunderstanding, alternative media outfit Baretang Bikolnon reported.

The caravan arrived at Calamba, Laguna past midnight where they spent the rest of the night.

They will join the farmers from Mindanao at the protest camp-out at the Department of Agrarian Reform before their major protest rally at Mendiola on October 25. (Raymund B. Villanueva/With reports from and photo by Baretang Bikolnon)

Duterte has no one to blame but himself on rating fall, groups say

President Rodrigo Duterte has no one else to blame but himself on his recent Social Weather Station (SWS) approval rating slide, a farmers’ group and a human rights organization said.

Saying the big decrease in Duterte’s trust rating is a reflection of his political isolation from the masses, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) added the latest SWS survey further exposes the President as an enemy of the people.

“There is no genuine land reform [under Duterte]. Land monopoly persists and vast tracts of lands remain in the control of a few landed families. Agricultural lands are being converted, further threatening our food security. Tens of thousands of hectares of lands are devoted to foreign-owned plantations. Estimates peg that more than seven in every 10 farmers nationwide have no land to till,” the KMP said.

Human rights organization Karapatan for its part said the people are starting to see through “Duterte’s lies.”

“The Filipino people see through the government’s lies, fake news, deception and repression, as evidenced by the unrelenting campaigns and struggles for justice of victims of State-sponsored violence, that even recent surveys have to reflect the people’s sentiments,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“Though surveys are not the end-all, be-all of political opinion, it runs consistent with swelling protests and clamor for an end to [Duterte’s] repressive and fascist policies,” Karapatan added.

In a survey conducted last September 23 to 27, the SWS said Duterte’s gross satisfaction rating fell by 11 per cent from 78 to 67 percent.

Compared with SWS’s June 2017 survey, gross satisfaction with Pres. Duterte fell by 11 points from 78 per cent, gross undecided rose by four points from 10 per cent, and gross dissatisfaction rose by 7 points from 12 per cent, the SWS report said.

This gives a net satisfaction rating of plus 48 (percentage of satisfied minus the percentage of dissatisfied), SWS added classifying the latest rating as “good” from the previous “very good.”

“Whatever popular support he garnered during the 2016 presidential elections would swiftly fade as more and more sectors become disillusioned with his false promises of change,” the KMP said.

Karapatan said no amount of lies can cover up the growing dissatisfaction with Duterte.

“The mad scramble of Duterte’s sycophants to spread lies in international platforms on the non-existence of extrajudicial killings in the country, the recent launch of a group that is posing as a new paramilitary force in defense of the Duterte regime, and the unrelenting moves to suppress civil liberties and exercise of people’s rights are all desperate attempts by Duterte to project acceptability of its anti-people programs and to quell opposition to his fascist regime,” Karapatan said.

Karapatan added “government officials like Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano and Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, and the Philippine National Police are on defensive mode, employing the most laughable excuses, semantics and word plays denying the existence and prevalence of EJKs.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

End war with social and economic reforms, Duterte urged

A National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) negotiator urged President Rodrigo Duterte to resume formal peace negotiations if he wants to end civil war in the country.

In an interview, NDFP consultant Allan Jazmines said revolutionary groups would not agree to an open-ended bilateral ceasefire with the Duterte government unless it signs agreements on substantial reforms to benefit the Filipino people.

“If the peace talks resume and would be accelerated, it would end the civil war faster. Peace would happen after social and economic as well as political and constitutional reforms are signed and implemented,” Jazmines said.

Jazmines added that Duterte would only cause more trouble on his administrations if he pushes through with his threat to go after the New People’s Army (NPA) after the Marawi crisis is over.

“He is talking nonsense. The NPA is stronger, the revolution is stronger,” Jazmines said.

Duterte cancelled the fifth round of formal negotiations with the NDFP in The Netherlands last May after failing to force the Left into an open-ended bilateral ceasefire agreement.

Jazmines said NDFP and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) negotiators were very close to signing Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD) agreements before the cancellation.

The veteran negotiator said the GRP has already committed to distributing one million hectares over five years for free, which would include both public lands and property under private ownership.

“The parties are very close to inking the ARRD under the social and economic reforms agenda of the negotiations. For the first time, our farmers have hope. The details have already been threshed out. Duterte would be wasting all the hard work if he does not go back to the negotiating table,” Jazmines said.

Jazmines said such gains from the peace talks show the sincerity of the revolutionary forces in the negotiations.

The NPA would not fall into the trap of extended ceasefires without substantial reforms, he added.

“If the NPA and other revolutionary forces surrender or capitulate as Duterte wants, then goodbye to reforms the Filipino people demand.  That is why we will never do it,” Jazmines said.

“Duterte should not allow himself to be influenced by the enemies of genuine social reforms. The military and the United States of America are pressuring him to choose war over the peace talks,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Agrarian reform deal ready for NDFP-GRP approval

A common draft on agrarian reform is ready for approval by The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) after three days of bilateral discussions by the parties’ reciprocal working committees on socio-economic reforms over the weekend.

NDFP peace consultant Allan Jazmines told a peace forum yesterday the parties met from Saturday to Monday to finalize a common draft on agrarian reform for approval by the parties when formal peace negotiations resume next month.

“The GRP committee responded positively to the NDFP committee’s draft and both worked on enhancing and polishing the document,” Jazmines said.

“When formal talks resume sometime next month, it should be ready for initializing by the NDFP and GRP panels,” he added.

Jazmines said that since agrarian reform is only a part of the prospective Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, the document would only be “initialled” by the parties.

The NDFP and GRP announced their agreement to free land distribution to farmers during their third round of formal talks in Rome, Italy last January.

“Once initialled, the parties may already start implementing agrarian reform programs, such as the legislation of a genuine agrarian reform law by the GRP,” he added.

The working committees are now ready to move on to the rural development, national industrialization and economic development, social services and environmental protection agenda, Jazmines said.

“It may even be proposed that another meeting by the working committees should be held later this month,” he said.

GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III did not make it to the forum after failing to get an early flight from Mindanao.

Bello attended an emergency meeting in Davao City Monday night, the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, organizers of the event, said.

5th round in Oslo

Jazmines said the fifth round of formal negotiations may be held from mid-August.

“There are no exact dates yet. We will know after panel members from both sides would meet later this month to finalize the details with the Royal Norwegian Government,” he said.

Jazmines said the next round would focus on the other items in the social and economic reforms agenda, as well as constitutional and political reforms.

“The parties are also expected to thresh out issues that led to the temporary suspension of formal negotiations,” he added.

Jazmines said the GRP may again propose the inclusion of ceasefire declarations in the agenda.

The NDFP for its part may also propose discussions on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in relation to reported plans by GRP President Rodrigo Duterte to extend his martial law declaration in Mindanao to the end of the year, Jazmines said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva / Photo from Ruben Manahan III’s Facebook page)