Daughter of slain peace consultant arrested in Cagayan, senators urge for her release
Amanda Socorro Echanis, daughter of slain National Democratic Front (NDF) peace consultant and peasant rights advocate Randall Echanis, was arrested early morning on December 2 in Barangay Carupian, Baggao, Cagayan Province. Echanis reportedly had in her possession illegal firearms and explosives.
The 32-year-old activist who had just given birth to her son a month prior is now detained at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) office in Tuguegarao City.
The police reportedly found an M16 rifle, some ammunition, and two hand grenades stocked in her house. Amanda’s case is strikingly similar to that of Reina Mae Nasino, also an activist who was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Human rights groups such as Karapatan forewarned the prevalence of charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, with the latter a non-bailable offense, as a way of “weaponizing the law and subverting legal processes” to silence government critics.
Malacañang, in response to concerns over the welfare of Echanis’ one-month-old son, said that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will be the government agency assigned to take care of the child.
It could be recalled that a public outrage ensued after Nasino’s baby daughter, River, died of pneumonia three months after being born while her mother was incarcerated. “We hope that would not be repeated,” said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in a press briefing. “But I’m calling upon the DSWD to take steps to ensure that the welfare of the child would be protected.”
“It is always the rule that the government will take steps for the best interest of the child,” Roque expounded.
Echanis is a peasant organizer of the militant Alliance of Peasant Women (Amihan), an organization of peasant women advocating for genuine agrarian reform and women’s rights. In a statement released by Amihan, they denounced the “illegal arrest and detention” of Amanda and her child. “Amanda was the latest to the list of increasing peasant women and organizers who were incarcerated under Duterte.”
Amihan further stated that their local chapter in Cagayan Valley has been subject to red-tagging in recent years with Amanda Echanis even accused of being a high-ranking officer in the New People’s Army (NPA).
According to police and military, Echanis allegedly went by the name of “Julian” or “Waya” while serving as finance officer of the West Front — Provincial Committee of the NPA.
The 74-year-old father of Amanda Echanis was one of the leading consultants of the NDF during the botched peace talks between government and rebel forces. He was found murdered with multiple stab wounds in his Quezon City apartment last August.
The house of Isabelo Adviento, regional coordinator of Anakpawis Cagayan Valley, was also raided by government soldiers. Adviento’s wife, Lina Dagohoy, said soldiers failed to present a search warrant after forcing their way into the house and destroying their gate. She says police were only able to produce a search warrant after hours of waiting. She also asserts that police initially found no firearms inside their house and that she later saw strange plastic bags in their living room when she tried to get back inside.
Adviento claims that the strange bags in the living room contained the evidence used against him by police, said a report from Bulatlat, an alternative media group.
“The attempt to arrest me and the trumped-up charges against Amanda Echanis are blatant examples of political persecution and an attack on democracy and people’s rights,” Adviento said in an interview with the Inquirer.
Senators from the minority opposition bloc, Franklin Drilon, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, and Risa Hontiveros, released a statement urging the authorities to release Amanda Echanis and her baby for humanitarian reasons.
“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,” was said in their statement.
Moreover, the senate minority bloc called for a thorough and truthful investigation into the incident.
Amanda Echanis was a former student from the University of the Philippines. She advocated for helping the urban poor through researching with a nongovernmental organization before becoming a peasant organizer in Cagayan Valley, according to Amihan.