Guevarra: Police should explain transfer of Echanis' body without widow's consent
Erlinda Echanis, wife of slain National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant Randall “Randy” Echanis who was killed inside his rented house in Novaliches, Quezon City, cries at Pink Petals Funeral Homes in Quezon City as she claims the body of her husband.
The STAR/Michael Varcas

Guevarra: Police should explain transfer of Echanis' body without widow's consent

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - August 11, 2020 - 5:16pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police should explain why they took away the body of slain peasant leader Randall Echanis from the funeral parlor chosen by his family, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday.

Erlinda, Randall's widow, said more than ten members of the police force “forcibly took the cadaver” from the funeral home on Monday night. Police also arrested the paralegal guarding the body of Echanis, Anakpawis reported.

Lawyer Luz Perez, counsel for the Echanis family, said in an interview with ABS-CBN that police retrieved the body because it was transferred without a “release order” from the La Loma precinct.

Guevarra said: “Ordinarily, it’s the family of the deceased who should determine the funeral arrangements, but here there seems to be a question as to the identity of the deceased.”

Guevarra was referring to the police’s insistence that the person killed was a certain “Manuel Santiago,” citing an ID they recovered. This is despite Echanis’ own widow positively identifying the body of her husband.

The DOJ chief added: “Nonetheless, the police should explain why it was necessary to transfer the body from one funeral parlor to another.”

The Free Legal Assistance Group meanwhile said that the police forcibly taking the cadaver of Echanis is torture. “That is cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment defined as torture by the law,” the lawyers’ group said in a statement.

“There is certainly no legal or moral justification for the indignity inflicted on the grieving family and friends of Mr. Echanis,” FLAG added.

NBI probe

FLAG also urged Guevarra to direct the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the extrajudicial killing of Echanis and Louie Tagapia, said to be the former's neighbor and who was also killed.

The lawyers called the Philippine National Police to turnover the findings in its investigation, if any, to the NBI and fully cooperate with the bureau.

“From all indications, Mr. Echanis and Mr. Tagapia were, at the time of their killing, peacefully inside a private dwelling and were not engaged in any acts that would remotely justify the use of armed force by the authorities, their agents or cohorts,” FLAG added. They added that the government should also "allow an independent forensic pathologist chosen by the families of Mr. Echanis and Mr. Tagapia to immediately conduct autopsies of their remains."

The Palace has cautioned against blaming state agents for the killing, with presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, a former human rights lawyer, hinting without proof that Echanis may have been killed by the communist rebels he had represented at peace talks.

The Department of Justice’s Administrative Order 35 Task Force, a panel that looks into cause-oriented killings, is preparing to investigate Echanis’ case, after they confirm that it was indeed the peasant leader who was killed.

Guevarra said that he will refer the matter on the body's identification to the NBI Forensic Division.

“If it turns out that the victim is Echanis himself, and the known circumstances indicate an EJK case, then the AO 35 Task Force will be the primary investigator,” he said.

The task force is composed of prosecutors but may also include the police and NBI.

Guevarra also explained that they cannot order the PNP to take their hands off the case.

“We can’t stop the PNP if they want to investigate on their own. But the task force, or the NBI can do their own parallel investigation,” he said.

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