More than a police story
Assassination ‘akyat-bahay’ style” is how this paper’s columnist Ceres Doyo describes the killing of Randall Echanis, Anakpawis chair, deputy secretary-general of peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and a peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in talks with the government.
“Akyat bahay” refers to the common modus of thieves who enter homes usually in the wee hours to ransack through them and make off with valuables. Not so usual is the killing or harming of the occupants, as what happened with Echanis who was renting a room where his body was found, along with the remains of another boarder who rented the adjacent room.
But it’s the events following the discovery of Echanis’ body that lift the incident above the usual police story. After his wife Erlinda positively identified the remains, the body was taken from a facility chosen by the police to a different funeral parlor of the family’s choice. But for some reason, the Quezon City police made off with the cadaver and returned it to the original funeral home. The authorities claimed that they needed to verify Echanis’ identity, as an ID card under a different name was found on him. Along the way, the police also arrested Pao Colabres, a paralegal who had been sent to make sure that no procedures, such as an autopsy, would be carried out on the body without the family’s knowledge. Colabres was charged with “obstruction of justice.”
Initially, the police demanded that the Echanis family produce DNA evidence as well as fingerprint identification before they would release the body. But after two days, they agreed to turn over the remains after a fingerprint taken from the body matched that on an official government identification card.
Erlinda Echanis put the entire drama in the most succinct possible context: Why, she asked, “is my husband’s cadaver under investigation in the first place? It should be the perpetrators that should be hunted down and persecuted, not the lifeless body of my husband.”
Point well made. There may indeed be a reason for the tussle between Echanis’ family and friends and the authorities for “custody” of his body. Reports say Echanis’ body bore marks of torture and even bullets to the head, aside from numerous stab wounds. Is the belated realization that the victim’s body was a potent “witness” against those who killed him the reason for the unseemly tug-of-war?
“That is making the family go through so much more suffering,” Luchi Perez, one of the family’s lawyers, observed. Indeed, the suffering still isn’t over. Police broke up a streetside Mass early this week in front of the funeral parlor, claiming the proceedings violated physical distancing rules. Another Echanis lawyer has wondered why the family was being put through the wringer: “Why require such a process?” asked Jobert Pahilga. ”Because they consider him as their mortal enemy? Even when Ka Randy did not do anything wrong, but to struggle for reforms of the prevailing anti-people and anti-farmer system of the country?”
Many others consider Echanis’ fate a harbinger of even more, greater horrors after the recent passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Is this but the first of many other killings in the guise of thwarting terrorist activities? Even if Echanis, who was ailing, was unarmed and alone when he was set upon by killers whose identities, so many days after the “akyat bahay” attack, now seem impossible to confirm. Interestingly, no police report on the killings has been released, which is all of a piece with the contention of many others that the attack on Echanis is just part of a “culture of extrajudicial killings with impunity.”
His killing also doesn’t bode well for the fate of the stalled peace negotiations between the government and the NDFP which has been on hold since last year. The government’s peace panel was dissolved in March 2019, but a month later, President Duterte announced his plan to reopen the talks by creating a military-led government panel. In December, the President followed this up by saying he was willing to revive the talks on the condition that he meet with Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison in the Philippines.
But then here comes Echanis’ slay, making him the third NDFP consultant killed after Sotero Llamas in 2006 and Randy Malayao in 2019. Clearly, there are parties unwilling to see peace with the communist rebels come to fruition. But willing, it seems, to use murder and mayhem, and harassment of the grieving survivors, to further their chokehold on the country’s troubled democracy.
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