Detained nursing mother pleads and hopes

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Sana po ay mabigyan na ng karampatang atensyon at agarang resolusyon ang kaso ng mga kagaya kong aktibista na biktima ng walang-habas na red-tagging at paglabag sa karapatang pantao ng kasalukuyang nakaluklok na gobyerno.”

I recently received a request, sent via email by a support group, from a 33-year-old mother detained since her arrest on Dec. 2, 2020 at the Cagayan Provincial Jail in Tuguegarao City. The above quotation is from her hand-written letter to Vice President Leni Robredo, who celebrates her 57th birthday today. Could I write in this space about her case, they asked, as narrated in her letter to VP Robredo?

Amanda Socorro Lacaba Echanis identifies herself as a writer and peasant women advocate and a “proud breast-feeding mother.” She studied at the Philippine High School for the Arts and the University of the Philippines.

She was born in 1988 inside prison because her mother, anti-martial law activist Erlinda Lacaba, was then a political detainee. Amanda had worked among the urban poor in Metro Manila before moving over to organizing peasant women.

Amanda wished to apprise Robredo of her current situation as a “first-time mother” among her fellow detainees because she regards the Vice President as a “champion for the rights and welfare of women, including those, like herself, who are called Persons Deprived of Liberty.”

“Baby ko lang po ang hawak ko, wala po akong armas,” she wrote. “Ito po ang sinabi ko noon sa mga humuli sa akin habang kalong-kalong ko ang anak ko na sumususo pa sa aking dibdib.” It was a month-old infant that she was cradling – not a weapon – when she was arrested during a dawn raid in a house in Baggao town. The joint AFP-PNP team showed no properly-issued search and arrest warrants against Amanda, who had been working in Cagayan since 2016 with Amihan, a national peasant women’s organization.

The raiding team forcibly entered her quarters and planted firearms and explosives, she claimed. That served as the basis for subsequently charging her for a non-bailable offense.

Amanda’s life has been marked by struggles and sacrifice.

Just four months before her arrest, her father Randall Echanis had been brutally murdered by what were believed to be state security forces. A well-known peasant activist, “Ka Randy” was also a National Democratic Front peace consultant. Amanda gave birth to her baby while still in shock and outraged.

“Ngunit kagaya ng maraming ina na lumalaban para mabuhay, patuloy akong nagpapakatatag para sa kapakanan ng baby ko,” Amanda confided to Robredo. “Naninindigan po ako na huwag mawalay sa aking munting sanggol sa kabila ng pagkakakulong. Pinatay na nga ang tatay ko, tinanggalan pa ako ng kalayaan, pati ba naman ang karapatan kong maging ina sa anak ko, kukunin at ipagkakait din sa akin?”

She refused to be separated from her newborn. Thanks to the love and support of family, friends and even strangers, she said, she has managed to stay well and look after the child’s sound development.

“Dito po sa loob ng kulungan [siya] natutong makakita, maglakad, tumakbo at magsimulang magsalita… Sinisikap kong ipakita ang pagmamahal…sa pamamagitan ng hands-on na pag-aaruga at paggabay sa kanyang paglaki. Tuluy-tuloy din po ang breast-feeding ko, kaakibat ng pagpapakain ng masustansyang pagkain sa kanya.”

Amanda hopes that liberty and justice may come soon for herself and her baby, as well as for all political detainees in the country. She has been following current political developments, encouraged by the potential for change.

She told Robredo that she shares the latter’s aspiration for a government that sincerely works for the interest and welfare of all, especially the poorest Filipinos: “Kagaya ninyo, naniniwala po ako na nararapat lamang na isang gobyernong tapat ang mailuluklok sa poder para sa kapakanan at ikaaangat ng buhay ng lahat ng mamamayang Pilipino, lalo na ang pinakamahihirap sa ating bayan.”

Amanda and her fellow women detainees had been making use of their time by learning the elegant art of bonsai. One of these living plant sculptures, painstakingly and patiently crafted, and “kulay rosas-inspired,” was sent to Robredo as a gift.

Amanda was perhaps referring to her own experience when she referred to the bonsai plant, still alive and grown more beautiful despite the ravages of nature and time. She told Robredo: “Sa kabila ng mga pagsubok sa buhay, nananatili po akong puno ng pag-asa kagaya ng mga puno ng bonsai – Puno/Puso ng Pag-asa. At isa po kayong inspirasyon… Maraming, maraming salamat po!”

Meantime, the human rights community welcomed rulings issued by two lower courts on separate long-running cases.

On April 19, Bacolod City RTC Branch 42 acting Presiding Judge Ana Celeste Bernad released her decision convicting two military intelligence operatives for shooting to death a church worker and activist in Himamaylan City on June 14, 2010.

The decision, dated March 31, found Rafael Cordova and Reygine Laus, both privates first class of the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion, “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” for killing Benjamin Bayles, Himamaylan City coordinator of Bayan Muna party and a lay minister of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. They were sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to pay Bayles’ family P300,000 in civil, moral and exemplary damages.

On the same day, Manila RTC Branch 42 Presiding Judge Dinnah Aguila-Topacio denied the motion for reconsideration, filed by state prosecutors, on Manila RTC Branch 32 Presiding Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina’s 97-page decision last Dec. 16. That decision dismissed the 15 murder cases (allegedly done in early 1980s) against 15 named accused, including myself and several others. The case took 14 years to resolve.

On the Bayles ruling, the National Union of People’s Lawyers stated: “…(It) is not lost on us that justice will come later even if not sooner. This is a clear message and warning to those who think there is immunity from impunity. But most of all, this is for those still waiting for justice to be served. Have faith. It will come somehow, sometime.”

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Email: [email protected]


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