Opposition senators urge immediate release of Amanda Echanis, her baby from jail

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Opposition senators urge immediate release of Amanda Echanis, her baby from jail
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

MANILA, Philippines — Citing humanitarian considerations, members of the Senate minority bloc on Friday called for the urgent release of a peasant organizer and her infant son from prison.

Amanda Echanis, daughter to recently murdered peace consultant Randall, and organizer for 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. Her newborn baby was picked up along with her.

"Jail is not a place for a mother and her one-month-old boy she is nursing. Considering the vulnerabilities of mother and son, releasing them is in their best interest as per the First 1,000 Days Law or Republic Act 11148," Sens. Risa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima, Francis Pangilinan, and Franklin Drilon said in a joint statement.

RA 11149 requires the government to scale up nutrition intervention programs for infants and young children up to two-years-old, adolescent females, and pregnant and lactating women.

While Echanis remains in detention, the senators said state forces must ensure that both she and her child are "treated humanely and accorded all their rights."

"We have just witnessed the heartbreaking death of Baby River Nasino after being separated from her mother, who was still nursing her. We hope our authorities have learned a thing or two about compassion and humanity from that incident, so as not to have a repeat of an avoidable tragedy," they added.

READ: Mother-activist's arrest reminds of Reina Mae Nasino's case

In its own statement released Thursday, the Commission on Human Rights urged authorities to "give primordial consideration to the welfare of the one-month-old baby as required by the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders or the Bangkok Rules."

"As an accused who is deemed innocent until proven guilty in court, it is also expected that Echanis will be treated humanely and justly, as with all persons deprived of liberty, in line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners or the Nelson Mandela Rules," CHR said.

The Nelson Mandela Rules require member States to work towards establishing in women's institutions "special accommodation for all necessary pre-natal and post-natal care and treatment." Meanwhile, the Bangkok Rules stipulate that prison services in member states include provisions for the full range of needs of children in prison with their mothers, whether they be medical, physical, or psychological.

'Due process must be accorded to all'

The senators further called for "a speedy and truthful investigation and handling of the case of Amanda, accused of keeping firearms, just as she has just given birth."

"Due process, justice, and compassion must be accorded to all, no matter their beliefs," they said.

Rights group Karapatan noted on Thursday noted that Echanis is the latest in a slew of arrested political prisoners accused of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

A majority of the 656 political prisoners in the country are detained for the same charge, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said during a press conference.

In a separate media briefing, Rep. Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis party-list) said police and military personnel barged into 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.

Citing information from Echanis, Casilao added that law enforcers were inside Amanda’s 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 interim would have been “enough (time) to plant arms and explosives and M16 [rifle] seized as stated in their report,” Casilao said in Filipino.

"We also recall that the probe on the brutal death of her father, Randall Echanis, has yet to find conclusion," minority senators said.

While his murder remains unsolved, a forensic pathologist has since said that Amanda's father, 71-year-old Randall, a long-time consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines suffered several punctures and stab wounds, signs of torture, before he was deliberately stabbed fatally.

When asked to comment on the matter Thursday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque during a virtual briefing aired from Palawan called on the social welfare department "to take steps to ensure that the welfare of the child will be protected."

However, he also noted that "hindi kasi dahilan na palibhasa may anak ka ay hindi ka makukulong at hindi ka masa-subject sa proseso (It doesn't mean that just because you have a child, you will not be subject to imprisoned and not be subjected to the process)."

— with reports from Kristine Joy Patag

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