Philippine justice system

‘Don’t let Amanda Echanis be another baby River case’

Lian Buan

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‘Don’t let Amanda Echanis be another baby River case’

JAILED WITH BABY. Amanda Echanis takes her 1 month old baby with her to prison, as infants need to be breastfed until they're at least 1 year old.

Photo courtesy of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas

One-month-old baby Randall Emmanuel beats his mother's record of being a young prisoner. Amanda Echanis joined her parents in prison when she was 2 years old.

Still reeling from the trauma of the death of 3-month-old baby River Nasino, human rights groups pleaded with authorities for a more humane accommodation of activist Amanda Echanis who is in jail with her one-month-old baby, Randall Emmanuel.

32-year-old Amanda, daughter of recently-killed activist Randall Echanis, was arrested on December 2 for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives. She took her baby with her to the detention facility in Camp Adduro, Tuguegarao.

For starters, Amanda’s lawyer Sol Taule said authorities must ensure that Amanda can breastfeed inside prison. Police chief Debold Sinas said it was Amanda who wanted to take her baby with her inside prison.

“Dapat sundin ng mga otoridad ‘yung mga batas na may kinalaman sa pagpapasuso sa sanggol dahil hindi na po kapata-patawad na magkaroon pa ng isang Reina Mae Nasino,” Taule said in an online press conference on Thursday, December 3.

(Authorities must follow the laws related to breastfeeding because it’s unforgivable if what happened to Reina Mae Nasino happens again.)

Taule was referring to 23-year-old Nasino who gave birth to her baby River in prison, over similar charges as Amanda’s. Nasino and her baby were only allowed to stay together in prison for a month, with jail officials and the court citing lack of resources. Baby River died at 3 months old due to pneumonia complications.

Baby River’s death has put the judiciary under intense scrutiny. Nasino’s lawyers continue to seek accountability over what they called violations of not only international laws on treatment of prisoners, but the local law on breastfeeding too, which provides for a national policy of breastfeeding children until they’re a year old.

“Breastfeeding mothers have a right to be with their children, especially during this crucial time of their development,” said Cristina Palabay of rights group Karapatan.

Palabay said Amanda and baby must be released on humanitarian grounds, given that there’s also a raging pandemic that has broken into crowded Philippine jails.

Release on humanitarian grounds is a largely unexplored legal principle. But baby River’s death has pushed lawyers to a deeper discussion of what the courts can do to balance state interest and prisoner’s rights.

3rd generation prisoner

Baby Randall Emmanuel, named after grandfathers Randall Echanis and activist Emmanuel Lacaba, is a 3rd generation prisoner of the family.

Amanda’s parents Randall and Linda, both activists, were jailed in the ’90s when she was two years old. Amanda joined her parents in jail.

“Sa mga kinauukulan, kayo rin ay may pamilya, may mga anak at apo at kung may natitira pang pagkatao sa inyo, sana’y maintindihan din ninyo na hindi dapat hinuli at kinulong ang aking anak na si Amanda,” a tearful Linda Echanis said on Thursday.

(To authorities, you have families, you have children and grandchildren. If there’s still some humanity left in you, I hope you understand that you should not have arrested and detained my daughter Amanda.)

Prisoners’ rights group Kapatid sent on Thursday a letter to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta urging the top magistrate to get moving on the proposed Writ of Kalayaan, which is seen to provide an extraordinary relief to prisoners like Reina Mae and Amanda.

Peralta has announced he will retire a year early on March 27, 2021. Kapatid said Peralta should consider the writ as his lasting legacy.

Amanda the artist

Amanda is an alumna of the revered Philippine High School for the Arts, taking after the Lacaba side of the family. Her uncle Emmanuel “Eman” Lacaba was a poet and playwright.

“She is very much an embodiment of her parents, who are known activists, an embodiment of her titos (uncles), the Lacabas who are known freedom fighters,” said Palabay.

Amanda studied at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, before she headed a non-profit working for the urban poor. In 2016, she moved to Cagayan Valley to organize peasant women.

“Si Amanda ay isang mabait, matalino, at mapagsuring anak, na sa loob ng aming progresibong pamilya ay nakita niyang kinakailangang maglingkod sa sambayanan at makakita ng isang malayang lipunan,” said her mother Linda.

(Amanda is a kind, smart, and inquisitive child. In our progressive family she saw the need to serve our country and see a free society.)

According to peasant group Anakpawis, Amanda was among the activists red-tagged during the recent Senate hearings. Ironically, what was supposed to be an inquiry into the propriety and possible illegality of red-tagging, turned out to be a platform where witnesses could publicly accuse activists of being members of the armed New People’s Army (NPA).

Human rights groups fear that the bloody crackdown that happened in Negros, where many activists and grassroots workers were killed, will happen soon in Cagayan.

“Inaasahan natin ‘yung mga ganitong klase pa na dumami, ‘yung mga iligal na pag-aresto, mga pagtatanim, pati ‘yung pagpatay ‘yung malalang puwedeng gawin sa mga nire-red-tag ng gobyerno,” said Taule.

(We are expecting more incidents like this, more illegal arrests, more planting of evidence, and the worst scenario where people who are red-tagged by the government are killed.)

Anakpawis leader Ariel Casilao said that Amanda’s “silent” work was convenient for authorities to accuse her of working underground. Casilao pointed out that activists like Amanda’s father Randall, who was very visible, were also accused of working underground.

“If they can do that to known leaders, to a woman who had just given birth to a one-month old child, they can do it to anyone they want to target. This is not just a concern of progressive groups, but a concern for everybody who voices dissent,” Casilao said in Filipino. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.