Various groups and individuals condemned the arrest of Amanda Echanis during the early hours of Wednesday, December 2, and called for her immediate release.
The 32-year-old Amanda, a peasant organizer and daughter of slain activist Randall “Randy” Echanis, was arrested in Baggao, Cagayan, by elements of the 77th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, the Philippine National Police, and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
She is currently detained in Camp Adduro in Tuguegarao City with her 1-month-old son for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the usual charge against activists.
Her arrest comes in the middle of an intensifying government campaign against activists and the sustained red-tagging of progressive groups, even from President Rodrigo Duterte himself.
Former classmates of Echanis from the Community of Learners Grade School said they can attest to her character, adding she is “thoughtful, honest, talented, and has always stood up for what she believes in.”
“She has dedicated her life in service of the Filipino people, with her meaningful work assisting oppressed groups…. We cannot stand idly by as Amanda falls victim to the persistent unjust suppression and abuse of this government towards voices of legitimate dissent,” her classmates said in a statement.
Echanis is a graduate of the Philippine High School for the Arts and used to attend the University of the Philippines. Before becoming a provincial organizer of the peasant women group Amihan in Cagayan, she worked as the executive director of the Urban Poor Resource Center of the Philippines.
At the Senate, several senators – Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, and Risa Hontiveros – joined calls for the release Echanis and her child on humanitarian grounds.
“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,” they said in a statement on Friday, December 4.
‘Planted evidence and fabricated charges’
Groups such as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Anakpawis stressed that peasant groups in Cagayan Valley were subjected to a crackdown after supposed rebel surrenderers testified in Senate hearings.
They also said Echanis’ arrest was based on “planted evidence and fabricated charges” by state forces and coincided with the attempted arrest of Anakpawis Cagayan Valley Chair Isabelo “Buting” Adviento.
In a press conference, Adviento said that he was not in his house at the time of the raid.
“Based on initial reports from Karapatan Cagayan Valley, at midnight of December 2, almost a hundred armed state forces arrived at Barangay Carupian. At around 3:30 am, the police and military ransacked Adviento’s house and two other houses,” the KMP said in a statement.
KMP added Isabelo’s wife, Lina, saw soldiers planting firearms and grenades in the living room of one of the houses and said that the police only brought out a search warrant two hours after the initial raid wherein Echanis was caring for her newborn in one of the houses at the time.
‘Attack on women activists’
Groups criticized the arrest as a way for the Duterte administration to silence women activists.
Amihan condemned the move saying that the arrest is “the latest to the increasing list of Duterte’s ‘accomplishment’ to silence his critics.”
“They are claiming that while she was still recuperating from giving birth and taking care of her child, she was staying in a house with high-powered firearms and even grenades. If the police and military could declare that this is even possible, they should not impose their stupidity on other people,” Amihan Secretary-General, Cathy Estavillo said in a statement.
The group added that they will be appealing the case to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Commission on Human Rights. They also said that they will coordinate with Gabriela Women’s Partylist Representative Arlene Brosas in filing a house resolution to investigate the case.
Alyansa ng mga Ibarang para sa Mapagpalayang Sining, a commune of alumni, students, and teachers from the Philippine High School for the Arts recognized the important role that women, such as Echanis, play in social and cultural engagement.
The commune also said that the Duterte administration targets strong women “through a strategy of harassment and debasement.”
“Whether activist, artist, journalist, representative, senator, or chief justice, no woman, young or old, is spared from the culture of misogyny that has become the hallmark of the Rodrigo Duterte administration,” the group said in a statement.
Similarly, the Women Against Repression Alliance asserted in an alert that the attack on women activists such as Echanis has “continuously proven that Duterte’s regime will do whatever it takes to silence them.”
Meanwhile, artist collective Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) slammed the arrest as many people in Cagayan Valley are still picking up the pieces from the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses in the region.
“The local peasantry has yet to wash the sludge out of their communities, let alone re-plant the crops they’ve lost, when state forces make another deluge of harassment and intimidation,” SAKA said in a statement.
They also likened Echanis’ arrest to the plight of jailed activist Reina Mae Nasino and her baby River. Similar to Echanis, Nasino was arrested for illegal possession of firearms and explosives as part of a crackdown in 2019 by the Duterte government on activists.
Nasino carried baby River in the womb while in jail but they were separated after River’s birth. River was diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome and died at 3 months old on October 9.
Groups such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines condemned the infant’s death, questioning the justice system’s capability to safeguard the needs and rights of an innocent child to breastfeeding and a better chance to survive.
“‘Heartless’ does not begin to describe the fascists who can take a peasant organizer who has just given birth and detain her with her newborn,” SAKA said. – with reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com