August 20, 2020 – According to Karapatan-TK, Dioscorro Cello’s body was being reclaimed by his family and their humanitarian team, and was expected to be buried in Tuy, Batangas.
August 21, 2020 – Forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun said in an initial, independent autopsy report that Echanis could have died from stab wounds and a head injury.
August 24, 2020 – Anakpawis paralegal Pao Colabres tested positive for COVID-19 following his illegal arrest. He was released on a P36,000 bail last August 18.
In response to the murders of four unarmed New People’s Army (NPA) affiliates and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randy Echanis, human rights alliances protested against the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) involvement in both incidents. Both of which took place within a week.
“Sa rekord ng karahasan at pasismo, dapat panagutin ang mga pasistang tuta ni Duterte sa PNP at AFP na sina Police Regional Office-4A (PRO4A) commander PBrig. Gen. Vicente Danao, Jr., Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) commander major General Antonio Parlade, at mga kasapakat nito na naghahasik ng pasistang lagim ngayon sa rehiyong Timog Katagalugan,” Karapatan-Timog Katagalugan spokesperson Kyle Salgado said.
Other alliances formed a Black Friday Protest last August 14, 2020 in the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) in response to these incidents. These include Anakpawis, where Echanis served as chairperson, Kabataan Partylist, and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
“Magsilbi tayong mga sulo na nagliliyab at nagpapalayas sa mga anino. Pinapakita na ng estado ang berdugong mukha nito, at hindi ito titigil hangga’t hindi tayo namamatay – kung hindi dahil sa COVID-19, dahil sa lantarang pasismo,” they said.
A series of grave incidents
The informally named “Kalayaan 4” composed of Dioscorro Cello, Rey Masinas, and Alex Perdegerra, who were all killed on August 2, 2020 in a firefight against elements of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion 4A, which took place in Sitio Balatkahoy, Brgy. San Antonio.
The fourth, Mario Caraig, a supposed NPA leader, was killed six days after during the serving of a warrant for allegedly committing counts of attempted and frustrated murder. Although the police claimed that Caraig opened fire on the officers, eyewitnesses claimed that he was a “hors de combat” (a combatant who cannot fight) due to an incapacitating injury on his arm.
Although not affiliated with any of the Kalayaan 4, civilians Virgilio Asedillo, his two-months pregnant daughter Chloe Asedillo-Iwarat, and Chloe’s husband Macnie Iwarat were arrested by Laguna authorities. They supposedly allowed Caraig to reside in their Sitio Buho, Brgy. San Antonio home following the attack.The three have been missing after being taken to Kalayaan Municipal Police Station (Kalayaan MPS), then being moved to an unknown location.
In contrast, the AFP’s SOLCOM, the 2nd Infantry Division ng Philippine Army (2IDPA) and the 202nd Infantry Battalion (202IBPA) under BGen. Alex Rillera claimed that the family was brought to Camp Capinpin, Rizal after pleading for protection.
Karapatan TK said this is a sign that the military attempted to compromise the family through their black propaganda.
“Halos isang linggo na nilang hawak ang pamilya Asedillo — nang walang batayan, at pinapalusot na lamang na “naghanap ng tulong” sa mga militar. Dapat ilitaw na ng AFP at PNP sina Asedillo,” the alliance wrote.
Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis, meanwhile, was found dead after being stabbed and tortured in his Novaliches, Quezon City apartment last August 10, two days after the Kalayaan 4 incident. This was after an alleged raid that took place there, where five unidentified assailants were said to be involved. Echanis’ death certificate said that he was also shot on the head.
A peace negotiator from 2016 to 2017, a former secretary general of KMP, and the author of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), Echanis was also detained during the Martial Law era, and once more during then-Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term in 2008, when he was one of the 70 charged as being involved with the Inopacan Mass Grave in Leyte.
Though police claimed that there was no sign of forced entry, Anakbayan partylist leader Ariel Casilao believed that officers forced themselves into the area. He cited pieces of evidence that were uncovered with the aid of barangay officials, including a busted door knob and strike plate near the doorway.
An unnamed neighbor was also reportedly killed in the incident.
Karaptan-TK reported that the bodies of Cello, Masinas, and Perdegerra were in Camp Vicente Lim, Laguna last August 8, two days after they were declared missing when the bodies were taken from Greenlawn Memorial Services, Calamba by elements of the PNP R4A.
Salgado stated that taking the deceased’s remains and being autopsied without the family’s permission was dubious.
“Walang karapatan ang mga kapulisan na kuhanin ang bangkay at ilibing ng walang pahintulot mula sa pamilya. Wala pang isang linggo noong nangyari ang insidente at dinala sa punerarya. Mahigit isang araw lamang ang nakalipas, biglang nilang kukuhanin ang mga bangkay mula sa punerarya at dadalhin nila sa loob ng kampo?,” Salgado said.
Karaptan-TK, however, revealed that this was not a new case for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP. Farmers Emerito Pinza and Romy Cando were revealed to have been killed and improperly buried by the PRO4A last February 5.
On August 12, Caraig’s sister appealed to PCol. Serafin Petallo II, the chief of the Laguna Police Provincial Office, to return her brother’s body to their household. After four days of being delayed by continuous demands for paperwork, the Caraig family are finally able to retrieve then properly bury Mario Caraig with the aid of Bishop Buenaventura Famadico through Rev. Fr. Zaldy Fortuno of the Diocese of San Pablo’s Diocesan Human Rights Desk.
Masinas would also be returned to his family on the same day.
On August 13, the body of Masinas was recovered in a cemetery in Sitio Buso-Buso, Brgy. San Jose, Antipolo, 60 km. from where their bodies were said to have been placed. His body was also being embellished in St. Peter Chapels, Atimonan but the remains were not dressed.
Perdegerra’s body would be discovered two days later, in the exact same place where Masinas was found, as reported by Karapatan TK’s Humanitarian Team and the victims’ families. This leaves only Cello’s body unaccounted for.
After his body was identified by his widow, Erlinda Echanis, and his colleagues from Anakpawis, Echanis’ body would be forcibly taken from Pink Petal Funeral Homes, La Loma, Quezon City, where Echanis was being given a funeral procession. The police said that the family needed to secure a release order from the police and from a branch of St. Peter’s funeral home there. This is even if they are not needed.
Pao Colabres, an Anakpawis paralegal, was later detained in Camp Karingal after being charged with “obstruction of justice.”
Prior to the investigation by Quezon City Police, state forces repeatedly identified the body of Echanis as that of a “Manuel Santiago’s.” This was until fingerprint tests proved this otherwise.
“QCPD’s cover-up is the reason why we will never trust them with the investigation. We urge them to stop the lies as it furthers the brutal death and injustice of Echanis,” Casilao said.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay condemned the delayed release of the cadaver, believing that the police might have a “fetish” for holding dead bodies hostage. She added that they were treated as “trophies” among the police for killings.
“Not only does this government take pride in violating international humanitarian law, human rights, and signed agreements: they take pleasure in degrading and torturing the families of their victims,” Palabay said.
Unearthing the truth
Most groups view the case of Ka Randy that the Anti-Terror Law, signed by President Duterte a month ago was to be blamed for the entire issue. Upon the signing of the law, several mass arrests and reports of killings have taken place all across the Philippines.
Peace negotiators other than Echanis, have also been threatened and killed under the recent administration such as NDFP Peace consultant Randy Malayao who was assassinated while asleep inside the bus in January 2019, followed by Julius Giron who died during an alleged arrest raid in March. Several consultants such as Adel Silva, Vicente “Vic” Ladlad, and Rey Cassambre were arrested due to trumped-up charges that human right groups believed to be baseless arrests.
Casilao said that this was the culture of extrajudicial killing with impunity under Duterte’s administration. He said that Duterte started to target the national leaders of democratic movement which needs to be denounced by human rights advocates and democratic fighters.
“Duterte has already signed the death order of activists and peace consultants upon the enactment of the anti-terrorism law. We will seek justice for Echanis and other victims of state-sponsored killings, at any cost,” Casilao added. [P]
Photos from KARAPATAN-TK and KARAPATAN Alliance Philippines