Karapatan asserts call for justice for Ka Randy and all slain peace consultants

Photo from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas

As groups mark today the first year since the killing of peace advocate and peasant leader Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis, human rights alliance Karapatan said that justice “remains elusive” as attacks and killings of other National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants “alarmingly worsen” under the Duterte administration with the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Anti-Terrorism Council’s (ATC) designation of peace consultants as terrorists.

“A year has passed since Ka Randy was tortured and stabbed to death, yet even a hint of justice and accountability seems dim as Duterte’s murderous campaign targeting peace advocates has only become more brutal especially with the designation of peace consultants under the terror law, which can only be described as a virtual hit list — only making it clear that the gruesome killings of peace advocates like Ka Randy is a State policy,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Last year, on August 10, 2020, Echanis was murdered in his residence in Quezon City along with his neighbor Louie Tagapia, and an independent autopsy of his remains showed that he was tortured before he was stabbed to death. The slain peace consultant was a long-time consultant of the NDFP in the peace negotiations with the Philippine government; he was also the chairperson of Anakpawis Partylist and the deputy secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

Along with Echanis, six more NDFP peace consultants have been killed under the Duterte administration as of June 2021: Randy Felix Malayao, Julius Giron, Agaton Topacio, Eugenia Magpantay, Antonio Cabanatan, and Reynaldo Bocala. Palabay averred that their killings “followed similar patterns, in which they were either murdered by unidentified assailants, or killed in the course of purported service of search or arrests warrants in police and military operations.”

Malayao was shot aboard a bus in Nueva Ecija in January 2019, while Cabanatan and his wife Florenda Yap were found strangled to death in Oton, Iloilo in December 2020. Meanwhile, police and military raids led to the killings of Julius Giron, doctor Maria Lourdes Tangco, and aide Arvie Reyes in Baguio City in March 2020; Magpantay and Topacio in Angono, Rizal in November 2020; and Bocala and his aide Welly Arguelles Epago in Pavia, Iloilo last May 28.

In 2018, Echanis, Malayao, Magpantay, Topacio, and Cabanatan were among the more than 600 names that the Department of Justice (DOJ) petitioned to proscribe as terrorists under the now-repealed Human Security Act. Meanwhile, Bocala’s wife, peace consultant Maria Concepcion “Concha” Araneta-Bocala, was among those arbitrarily designated by the ATC as terrorists under the Anti-Terrorism Act in a list released last May 13.

“These killings and the similar circumstances in which peace consultants were killed only show that this campaign of red-tagging and terrorist-labelling, regardless of its legal consequences on paper, is a de facto death sentence. By targeting and murdering peace consultants and advocates, Duterte and his cabal of bloodthirsty war criminals have killed all prospects of just and lasting peace under this administration in service of State terror,” the Karapatan official continued.

“There will be no justice for Ka Randy if the perpetrators of his cold-blooded murder are yet to be held accountable and when similar abominable attacks on peace consultants continue with brazen impunity. One year after he was killed, the announced investigation by the Task Force on Administrative Order 35 has yet to show any significant progress towards determination and arrests of suspects. As we assert the struggle for just and lasting peace, we also ring the call for justice for Ka Randy and all peace consultants, and to stop the killings in the Philippines,” she ended.