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PNP arrests ‘ex-NDFP consultant’ and gov’t employee Mapano

The Rodrigo Duterte government’s all-out offensive against National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants is not sparing even those who have already chosen to live above ground.

In a curious turn of events, the police arrested peace negotiator Alfredo Mapano who newspaper reports describe is an “ex- NDFP consultant” and who currently works as a government employee.

Mapano, known in Northern Mindanao as the legendary New People’s Army leader “Ka Paris”, was arrested by the Bayugan City (Agusan del Sur) police while at work in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental last Friday, November 27.

Bayugan is 200 kilometers away from Tagoloan and under a different Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Command.

A participant in at least three Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)-NDFP formal peace negotiations from August 2016 in Oslo, Norway to January 2017 in Rome, Italy, Mapano is currently an employee of the government-owned Phividec Industrial Authority.

The former Red commander reportedly “surrendered” to President Duterte after Rome, brokered by former cabinet secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. who also recommended his employment as Phividec corporate social responsibility officer and, later, as security officer.

Mapano was allowed to post bail in August 2016 to participate in the first round of formal peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP.

Previously, he had been in jail for seven years for various crimes he allegedly committed as NPA leader.

A Kodao source said that Mapano had been “roaming around freely” in Northern Mindanao since his supposed surrender and living a “normal” life.

Surprised

Mapano’s re-arrest surprised everyone, including Mapano’s wife, employer and local police chief, Alternative news outfit Davao Today (DT) reported.

Wife Chona told DT  she is concerned if her husband is indeed under the custody of the Bayugan police.

“Our family is trying to locate him and ensure that he is safe…[The arrest] was unexpected. He is now living a normal life,” Chona said.

DT also reported that Talogoan police chief Captain Mark Dungca said the arresting team only informed him that they will be serving an arrest warrant but did not specify who.

Mapano was arrested two days after his 67th birthday.

Killings, convictions

Mapano’s arrest followed the “mafia-style executions” of fellow NDFP peace consultants Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio in the early hours of November 25 in Angono, Rizal and the conviction by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court for kidnapping and serious illegal detention of NDFP Negotiating Panel member Benito Tiamzon and peace consultant Wilma Austria, also last November 27.

Earlier this year, NDFP peace consultants Julius Giron and Randall Echanis were brutally killed in Baguio City and Quezon City, respectively.

In January 2019, NDFP peace consultant Randy Malayao was killed in his sleep while on board a bus in Nueva Vizcaya.

A number of other NDFP consultants have been arrested since formal peace negotiations between the NDFP and the GRP broke down in November 2017, all on allegations of possession of firearms and explosives.

The NDFP also reported that some of its peace consultants are missing, abducted by suspected government agents. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

2 more NDFP peace consultants killed; CPP condemns ‘mafia-style executions’ by police

Two more National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants died in a pre-dawn police raid last Wednesday, November 25, in Angono, Rizal.

In what the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said was a “mafia-style execution,” a composite police team killed elderly couple Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio, former members of its Central Committee.

Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) director, Major Gen. Joel Napoleon M. Coronel, said a raiding team composed of CIDG Regional Field Unit 4-A, Rizal Provincial Police Office and the Angono Municipal Police Station personnel was about to serve search and arrest warrants against the victims when fired upon.

The police said the 3:30 am incident became an “encounter” that resulted in the death of the 69-year old victims.

The PNP also said a Colt M-16 automatic rifle, a caliber .45 Rock Island pistol, a caliber .45 Federal pistol, two MK2 grenades, various gun magazines and several bullets were “recovered” from the sexagenarian couple.

The CPP however said the incident was simply a “cold-blooded murder” similar to the treacherous early morning killings of NDFP peace consultants Julius Giron in Baguio City and Randall Echanis in Quezon City earlier this year as well as Randy Malayao’s execution in Nueva Vizcaya province last year.

“We reject the claims of the police that the couple resisted arrest and were killed in a firefight. In their physical state, the couple would not have been able to manage the sheer number of weapons said to be found in the scene, much less put up a rigorous gun battle,” CPP spokesperson Marco Valbuena said in a statement.

Valbuena said Magpantay suffered from diabetes and severe arthritis and have in fact “recently retired from active service in the revolutionary movement due to infirmities of old age.”

The CPP spokesperson said the raid was carried out when the elderly couple were “surely fast asleep.”

Valbuena said the “police liquidation” of the couple is the most recent in the string of killings and legal persecution against peace consultants of the NDFP in violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.

“We hold Duterte, his National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and PNP Chief Debold Sinas as the masterminds behind the killing of Magpantay and Topacio,” Valbuena said.

‘Decades of service’

Valbuena said the CPP pays tribute to Magpantay and Topacio “for their decades of service to the revolutionary cause and service to the oppressed and exploited masses.”

Aside from their stint as CPP Central Committee members, Magpantay was also a former member of the CPP Political Bureau, Valbuena said.

Police reports also identified Magpantay as a former Central Luzon Regional Party Group secretary.

Magpantay and Topacio were first arrested and detained at the Bicutan detention facility under President Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law between 1977 and 1979.

Since their release, the couple had been the subject of intense manhunt by the police who even mistakenly arrested one Lourdes Quioc and one Reynaldo Ingal in October 1, 2014.

Quioc and Ingal were released after spending 17 months in jail. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP protests gov’t court’s conviction of Tiamzon and Austria

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel protests a government court’s conviction of two of its senior peace negotiators as “baseless” and “an act of persecution.”

Reacting to Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 26’s conviction of NDFP peace panel member Benito Tiamzon and consultant Wilma Austria of kidnapping with serious illegal detention, the NDFP said the decision violated the 1956 Hernandez Political Doctrine.

“This doctrine mandates that all alleged acts in pursuit of one’s political beliefs are absorbed, subsumed or integrated in one political crime of rebellion and cannot be mutated into several common crimes as what they were convicted of,” the NDFP said.

The group added that even if both Tiamzon and Austria, alleged leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA), had a hand in the capture of then Philippine Army Lt. and now retired Brigadier General Abraham Claro Casis, the act was “legitimate in the laws of war.”

The court should have considered Casis as among “persons deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict” or “prisoners of war” in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Protocols, the NDFP said.

1988 capture

In his decision, Judge Alfonso Ruiz II said he gave “full faith and credit” to Casis’ testimony that, while detained, he saw Tiamzon and Austria in meetings with the NPA.

Casis said they were on their way to Manila on June 1, 1988 when captured by the NPA at the border of Tiaong and Candelaria towns in Quezon Province.

They were released after two months of captivity on August 12 of that year by the late NPA spokesperson Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal.

The NDFP however questions the credibility of Casis’ testimony as recalled “with unbelievable magical throwback powers.”

It said the incident happened “a good three decades ago in a case long archived and dismissed against many other accused but just recently politically excavated by the militarist hawks of the (Rodrigo) Duterte regime.”

The NDFP said it found unbelievable that the lone witness “can vividly remember minute details, names, faces, places and events that happened in 1988.”

The group also said the court’s decision suffered from “sweeping and conclusory inferences of conspiracy by mere alleged presence” of the accused.

JASIG-protected

The NDFP said the Tiamzons were also denied due process because of their involuntary inability to personally present their own defense “due to the real and imminent threat on their lives conducted under the baton of no less the GRP Principal, President Rodrigo Duterte.”

It said that as publicly-known NDFP peace negotiators, the Tiamzons should be immune from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions under the subsisting 1995 GRP-NDFP Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

The group said the JASIG remains effective and demandable despite its questionable termination by the GRP and regardless of the status of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

“And this is precisely the raison d’ etre for it (reason for being), i.e. to encourage participation by ensuring subsequent protection,” the NDFP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Peace advocates slam red-tagging as a ‘work of evil’; call for peace talks resumption

By Joseph Cuevas

Peace advocates held a media briefing last Wednesday, November 11, to condemn red and terror-tagging activities they say undermine efforts to resume peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

The group Pilgrims for Peace pointed out that if the GRP still wants to resume negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA), it should stop calling the underground groups as terrorists.

It also pointed out that the NDFP is not classified as a terrorist organization even in the government’s own official pronouncements.

The advocates are dismayed that “war and terror-mongering are rearing their ugly heads once again, as a dominant trend in the current conduct by the GRP.”

Fr. Christopher Ablon of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente described the red-tagging activities of government agencies such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and some officials of the government as a “work of evil” that directly hurts peace efforts.

Ablon cited that six out of seven victims of extra-judicial killings of church workers and peace advocates red-tagged.

Not terrorist organizations

Atty. Edre Olalia, legal consultant of the NDFP, said that red-tagging and vilification violates the presumption of innocence and human rights of target, especially the right to association.

The practice of red-tagging, especially by the state forces and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, has no other real purpose but to silence dissent and criticism and repress opposition and counter-narratives against government policies and actions, Olalia explained.

“Red-tagging together with the draconian measures like the newly signed Anti-Terrorism Law turn the state forces and machinery against such unarmed civilians and groups who are exercising their basic rights and fundamental freedoms in a democratic society,” Olalia said.

Olalia pointed-out that the CPP-NPA-NDF possesses a level of legitimacy while their armed resistance abide by standards set by the United Nations resolutions and conventions.

“The CPP and NPA have not been listed as a terrorist organizations by the United Nations and the NDFP has never been [listed as] a terrorist organizations in any country,” Olalia added.

Olalia said that red-tagging conditions the mind of the public to eventually designate legal organizations and individuals as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council.

NDFP peace consultant and long-time activist Rafael Baylosis stressed that CPP-NPA-NDF must not be called terrorist organizations but entities fighting for national liberation and democracy for the people.

Talks resumption

Baylosis said that peace negotiations must be resumed and the Duterte government should rescind its terrorist proclamation of the CPP and the NPA.

He also called on the government to respect previous agreements signed by both parties.

Baylosis recalled the cancelled fifth round of peace talks last 2018 that was set to sign the Interim Peace Agreement that included the common draft on social and economic reforms, the coordinated and unilateral ceasefire, and release of all political prisoners thru general amnesty.

Pilgrims for Peace encouraged the GRP to consider resuming the peace talks anew in order to address the root cause of armed conflict through peace negotiations. #

Left to discuss peace talks resumption with Leni

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said it plans to engage in discussions with Vice President Leni Robredo for the resumption of its peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

Recently-appointed NDFP Negotiating Panel interim chairperson Julie de Lima said the Left should “engage the (GRP’s) constitutional successor to press for the resumption of the peace negotiation as a rallying point in the effort to oust [GRP President Rodrigo] Duterte,” the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Ang Bayan reported.

“[T]he NDFP, including its panel, should hold discussions with opposition parties, in particular, the Liberal Party,” de Lima told the underground newsletter.

She added that prospects for resuming the peace negotiations after Duterte, whether he is ousted or he finishes his term, “are possible and desirable.”

De Lima pointed out the peace negotiations can immediately resume on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) once Duterte is out of office.  

Duterte cancelled the peace negotiations in July 2017 as both the GRP and NDFP were ready to finalize important agreements under the CASER.

Prior to her new appointment, de Lima is a long-time NDFP Negotiating Panel member and head of its Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms.

CASER to combat COVID-19

The CASER, de Lima said, has relevant provisions on confronting the issue of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The draft agreement has a whole article consisting of seven sections which are devoted to the discussion of the people’s right to health. This includes the establishment of a universal public health system that provides free, comprehensive and quality health services for all,” de Lima explained.

The CASER provides immediate and adequate financial, material, moral and psychosocial support, ensuring disaster preparedness and respons, and holding criminally and civilly liable corrupt and grossly negligent officials, she added.

“The NDFP and GRP can elaborate on the issue based on a summing up of experience and learning lessons from both sides as well as from the positive and negative practices of foreign countries and international agencies in responding and confronting this particular pandemic as well as other pandemics.”

Robredo has yet to respond to Kodao’s request for a reply to de Lima’s statement. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Doc Ed’ Villegas dies after massive stroke

Edberto Malvar Villegas, retired University of the Philippines-Manila and De La Salle University professor, book author and Marxist political economist died Monday night, September 7, after suffering a massive stroke last Friday.

Villegas, 80, died at the Makati Medical Center at 9:56pm, sources informed Kodao.

A founding member of the Kabataang Makabayan in November 1964, Villegas was a two-year political detainee under Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law and suffered intense physical and psychological torture along with his late wife Lilia.

He was chairperson of the University of the Philippines (UP) Political-Economy Department for several years and was a board member of research group IBON Foundation at the time of his death.

He also served as secretary general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers from 1996 to 2001.

Villegas was a doctor in public administration.

A political economy expert, Villegas was a long-time National Democratic Front of the Philippines Negotiating Panel resource person on social and economic reforms.

He authored several books on economy and imperialism, including Studies in Philippine Political Economy; Global Finance Capital and the Philippine Financial System; Political Economy of Philippine Labor Laws; Japanese Capital and Investments in Southeast Asia; A Guide to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital; Oil Imperialism in the Philippines; Japanese Capitalism and the Asian Development Bank; Global Finance Capital and the Philippine Financial System as well as many pamphlets and essays.

Villegas’ political economy books are required reading for national democratic activists.

Villegas authored the novel Sebyo and Barikada: Maikling Kuwento ng mga Pilipino. He also wrote poetry.

He edited the historical book Gen. Malvar and the Philippine Revolution, authored by Doroteo Abaya and Bernard Karganilla and published in 1998.

Villegas was a grandson of General Miguel Malvar who served as interim President of the First Philippine Republic after Emilio Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans in Palanan, Isabela in 1901.

Villegas is survived by his two children, Karl and Iona, and grandchild Miguel as well as brothers Jose and Bernardo.

Abaya said Villegas will be interned at the family mausoleum in Sto. Tomas, Batangas on September 11. # (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)

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)

Joma: Only ‘butchers in authority’ may have killed Echanis

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said the brutal murder of peace consultant and veteran agrarian reform activist Randall Echanis may only be the handiwork of “butchers in authority.”

In a statement, Sison presented five “evidence” why a “gang of butchers” in the Rodrigo Duterte government are responsible for Echanis’ murder:

1. The same van used to surveil Ka Randy for one month was used to bring the murder team to kill him.

2. There were at least eight members of the murder team and they could move freely at night and after midnight to carry out their kill mission under conditions of strict lockdown.

3. On the night before the post-midnight murder, they shut off the street light and the CCTV (closed circuit television).

4. They openly used a ladder to access the second floor where Ka Randy (Echanis) was.

5. They took time to torture and knife Ka Randy and allowed sounds of torture to call the attention of neighbors until they shot him to death.

Echanis’ neighbors reported hearing someone “like being tortured” for at least an hour.

They also told ABS-CBN that it took several hours for members of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) to arrive at the scene.

Echanis, 72, was murdered around midnight August 10 in his rented apartment, along with neighbor Louie Tagapia, 48, in Novaliches, Quezon City.

“Only butchers in authority can do all the above and get away with murder,” Sison said.

Bizarre turn of events

Echanis’ murder became even more controversial after the QCPD forcibly took away his remains from his family and colleagues at a funeral parlor Monday afternoon and held it for nearly three days “pending verification” of the cadaver’s real identity.

The local police said they found an identification card at the crime scene bearing the photo of Echanis but with the name Manuel Santiago.

The victim’s family, colleagues and lawyers protested, saying they have already identified the cadaver as Echanis and there was no need for the police to conduct verification procedures.

The lawyers added that Echanis was a publicly-known figure that even President Duterte may be able to identify, having previously met him on several occasions.

The remains were taken to Pink Petals Funeral Parlor in La Loma across Quezon City and farthest away from the crime scene.

The QCPD even arrested Anakpawis paralegal Paolo Colabres for allegedly obstructing the police investigation when they sought that Echanis’ remains be returned to his family.

Colabres has been imprisoned at QCPD’s main headquarters at Camp Karingal since.

An attempt by a Roman Catholic priest to celebrate Mass in front of the funeral parlor was also prevented by the police.

A redemptorist priest being prevented to celebrate Mass for Echanis (Altermidya photo)

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines also released an alert after a police officer, identified on his nameplate as a certain Ilao, harassed journalists covering developments at La Loma and threatened to arrest them on alleged violations of “social distancing” procedures.

A supplied photo shows the journalists were observing social distancing and were wearing masks.

NDFP Negotiating Panel legal consultant Edre Olalia said that the QCPD was either being naïve, lazy or plain incompetent on insisting on the identity of a victim based solely on an ID reportedly found in the crime scene.

“Surely the police ‘intelligence’ had a cache of pictures of him [Echanis] with all the interest on his person and activities and with all the funds for police trainings and seminars on police investigation and ‘intelligence,’” Olalia said.

“One look at his bloodied and bruised face leaves no room for any doubt, speculation, ambivalence or paucity of vision. Despite the curious divergence of the name and the photo in the ID,” he added.

Anakpawis also refuted claims by the QCPD that there was no forced entry at the crime scene.

“The police’s claim that Echanis voluntarily opened his door or knew his killers, i[s] a brazen attempt for a cover-up, but the crime scene says otherwise,” Ariel Casilao, former Anakpawis Representative said in a statement .

The group said it immediately dispatched team to look into the crime scene and found broken door knob and strike plate, indicating a brute force entry.

“Contrary to police claim, the perpetrators forced their entry into Echanis’ rented apartment. It was a clear murder and we highly believe state forces were behind it following their hostaging of his remains and twisted stories,” Casilao said.

Anakpawis photos
Anakpawis photos

Echanis’ remains was eventually given back to his family after the QCPD admitted the cadaver was of Echanis based on fingerprints taken from it.

Echanis is the third NDFP peace consultant brutally killed after its peace negotiations with the government has been cancelled by Duterte in June 2017.

In January 2019, Randy Malayao was killed in Nueva Vizcaya while Julius Giron, a high-ranking Communist Party of the Philippines leader, was killed in Baguio City last March.

Several other NDFP peace consultants have been arrested and are in jail. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)