Paralegal nabbed when cops took Echanis' body tests positive for COVID-19

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Paralegal nabbed when cops took Echanis' body tests positive for COVID-19
Anakpawis paralegal Paolo Colabres was arrested for obstruction of justice.
Anakpawis / release

MANILA, Philippines — Anakpawis party-list paralegal Paolo Colabres, who was arrested and charged while guarding over the body of slain peasant leader Randall Echanis, tested positive for COVID-19.

Colabres was released on August 18 and underwent a swab test for COVID-19 on the same day, laywer Sol Taule told reporters. Results were released only on Monday. “He is positive for COVID-19,” Taule added in Filipino.

Colabres is not showing symptoms and is on quarantine, Taule, legal counsel of Karapatan and quick response lawyer on Colabres’ case, also said.

Anakpawis, in a statement, pinned the blame on police who arrested Colabres while he was standing guard over the body of Echanis, chairperson of the party-list.

Echanis and his neighbor Louie Tagapia were killed in his rented apartment in Quezon City on August 10. Investigating police initially insisted that it was a certain “Manuel Santiago” who was killed, and not the peace consultant.

Even with Echanis’ widow positively identifying his body, police insisted that the victim was “Manuel Santiago,” citing an ID card recovered at the crime scene. On the night after Echanis was killed, police forcibly took his body from a funeral parlor the family picked. They said the family lacked a release order for the body, a requirement that the family's lawyer does not exist.

They also arrested Colabres for obstruction of justice and detained him at Camp Caringal. Lawyer Luz Perez, deemed at large by the inquest prosecutor, will be subjected for further investigation also for obstruction of justice.

The police finally acknowledged that the body was Echanis' only on August 12.

Delay in release

“Anakpawis blames the [Quezon City Police District] for compromising the health of Colabres by putting him in a congested jail with potential COVID-positive inmates, and for the delay of his release,” the party-list said in a statement on Monday night.

“The QCPD should be held accountable; they did not only endanger the health of Colabres, but also the entire prison population,” it added.

Prosecution Attorney Nathaniel Eric Sio indicted Colabres on obstruction for justice for “taking and removing, without authority the cadaver of the victim, known as Manuel Santiago.”

Sio also said Colabres misrepresented himself that he was authorized by police to remove the cadaver—an accusation that Anakpawis refuted as they stressed that the family authorized and had been coordinating with Colabres and Perez for Echanis' funeral arrangements.

Taule, in a separate statement, said: “It also took long to release the inquest resolution before he was able to post bail on the 18th of August.”

She said they found out that the inquest resolution was already for finalization as early as August 13. It was not until August 18 that the QC Regional Trial Court Branch 43 ordered Colabres’ release of after posting P36,000-bail.

"There is no one to blame for this but the government. Amid the pandemic, their ultimate priority is to arrest ordinary citizens who are asserting their rights," Taule added.

Colabres would still have to stand trial for the obstruction for justice charge before the court.

Arrests amid shrinking jail space and rising COVID-19 infections

Amid rising COVID-19 infections in the country and spreading in Bureau of Jail and Management Penology-managed jails, the Supreme Court on July 21 directed trial court judges to order the detention of newly-arrested persons in local police units.

Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac then told reporters that PNP detention cells “can still accommodate [arrested persons] but with barely enough capacity.”

READ: As Duterte orders arrest of people without masks, government scrambles to find space for detainees

Two of the six jeepney drivers arrested for protesting the loss of their livelihoods and were under the custody of Northern Police District, according to reports, also tested positive for COVID-19 after their detention.

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