Case vs Amanda Echanis similar to most political prisoners, supporters say

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Case vs Amanda Echanis similar to most political prisoners, supporters say
This photo posted by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas shows Amanda Echanis and her baby. Echanis was arrested for illegal possession of explosives and firearms on December 2,2020.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Handout

We don't want another Baby River, her lawyer says

MANILA, Philippines — Arrested peasant organizer Amanda Echanis, daughter of murdered peace consultant Randall, has become the latest activist accused of illegal possession of firearms and explosives — the same charge a majority of the more than 600 political prisoners in the country are detained for, rights group Karapatan said.

Echanis, organizer of women peasants' group Amihan, was arrested on Wednesday morning, following law enforcers’ implementation of a court-issued search warrant, which Echanis said, was not shown to her.

“We note that majority of the 656 political prisoners right now, more than 400 of them arrested under President [Rodrigo] Duterte are facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives — exactly the same case that we have right now of Amanda Echanis,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a news conference Thursday.

Former Rep. Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis party-list) said in a news conference that police and military personnel barged in the house of Isabelo Adviento, a peasant leader from the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and Echanis’ house, which are about 200 meters apart, before dawn on Wednesday.

Casilao, citing information from Echanis, said law enforcers were inside Echanis’ house for five hours before barangay officials—witnesses for the implementation of the search warrant—arrived at around 8:30 to 9:00 a.m.

The five-hour period before barangay officials arrived is “enough (time) to plant arms and explosives and M16 [rifle] seized as stated in their report,” Casilao said in Filipino.

Linda Echanis, Amanda’s mother, called for the immediate release of her daughter and of her one-month old baby, who was brought to the detention facility with her. She said their family is still mourning the torture and killing of her husband Randall, whose murder remains unresolved four months later.

"We are calling on the [Commission on Human Rights], United Nations Human Rights [Council] and to those in power to immediatey free my daughter Amanda and her newborn son," she said in Filipino.

‘Same old story’ from the police, military

Lawyer Sol Taule said the circumstances of Echanis’ arrest are the "same old story" given by police and military during raids on houses or offices of those they accused of being members or sympathizers of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New Peoples’ Army.

Taule said the search is usually done at night, claiming the guns and explosives are planted then. She also pointed out that Amanda was not allowed to witness the search in her house.

She added that “in real life, in an ideal world,” law enforcers must be armed with search warrants and that these will be shown to the residents of the house to be searched. There should also be witnesses and items seized should be listed, she said.

"But in the many cases that we have been handling, [the people arrested] were not shown the search warrant. The modus [operandi] is to barge into the house, make them lie on their stomachs and blindfold them so they won't see what’s happening,” Taule said.

In a series of tweets in October, Taule said that activists are often charged with illegal possession of firearms and of explosives because "planting of firearms and explosives is the best way to [to justify the government's stance that activists are terrorists.]"

"All other crimes in the Revised Penal Code are harder to prove. If you charge activists with murder, kidnapping, arson etc., they will have to exert effort to find their witnesses who can pinpoint that a person indeed committed the crime charged," she also said.

"And they cannot charge these cases against activists because they know that they don't have that damning evidence apart from bare allegations and common red-tagging. In short, inimbento lang (it's made up)."

PNP: Echanis 'part of underground movement'

Police Gen. Debold Sinas, Philippine National Police chief, on Thursday morning insisted that Echanis is part of the underground movement and that her husband is an “armed leader in Cagayan Valley.”

In an interview with ANC’s "Headstart", Sinas denied that the firearms were planted, saying it would be difficult to do so since it was Echanis’ house. The police chief also said that it is their job to track down illegal firearms.

"There were guns there because her husband is in the underground," he said, adding that police sought a warrant to search the house after getting a tip that there were firearms there. 

"The search warrant [was] issued most likely a day or two days before the raid, there is a time period for that and there was no violation there," he also said.

Sinas also said that Echanis wanted to bring her baby with her when she was arrested instead of turning the child over to the Deparmtent of Social Welfare and Development..

But Taule pointed out: “This is the same pattern in previous cases in Negros where 57 was arrested... and then in Manila.”

The rights lawyer was referring to the arrest of more than 60 activists in Negros on Oct. 31, 2019, under the implementation of a search warrant issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.

A separate raid was conducted in an office of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in Tondo, Manila where activists where again arrested, including Reina Mae Nasino of urban poor group Kadamay.

‘We don’t want another Baby River’

Nasino found out she was pregnant after she was arrested. She gave birth under jail conditions, and had to be separated from her one-month-old daughter, River, as ordered by the court.

Baby River died when she was three months old due to complications brought by pneumonia, which Nasino’s lawyers said could have been prevented had she been allowed to be with her mother and breastfed to strengthen her immunity.

Palabay stressed that Echanis also needs to be with her baby. "Do we want the baby to be another Baby River whose immune system will weaken because she [the mother] will be taken away from her child?"

"Breastfeeding mothers have a right to be with their children especially during this crucial time of their development," Palabay said.

Taule, who is also Nasino’s lawyer, stressed: “We don’t want another Baby River.”

READ: Three-month-old baby dies without reuniting with political prisoner mom

"Why does the government have such contempt for women?" Taule said in Filipino. "For women, for a mother and her child? Are these innocent citizens all that we can go after?"

More arrests feared

Peasant leader Adviento, whose residence was raided simultaneously with Echanis’, denied that the seized firearms were his. He said he was not in his house during the raid but was doing field work to assess the needs of farmers affected by the typhoon in Cagayan.

“It is clear that it was planted, to silence citizens who are shouting for what is right, for real land reform, along with thousands of people and farmers,” he said in Filipino.

"The only things that we hold are placards, petition, pencils at ballpens to call for real change," he added.

Taule also said that there is always fear that the mass arrest in Negros will also happen in Cagayan and in other places. “especially now that the Anti-Terrorism Act is in place.”

“We expect that cases such as this will multiply, the illegal arrests, the planting [of evidence] and even the killings—what grave actions can be done to those who are red-tagged by the government,” she added.

Rights groups fear that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which is facing 37 petitions before the Supreme Court, will be used to crack down on dissent and progressive groups.




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