RANDALL “Ka Randy” ECHANIS, Veteran advocate for land and peace

Veteran advocate for land and peace
April 23, 1949 – August 10, 2020

For five decades, Ka Randy led a life of service to the people. His was a life of achievements for the people’s liberation achieved through painstaking perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable hardships and sacrifice.

Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis came from a lower-middle-class family. His father was a native of Ilocos Sur, while his mother was from the nearby province of Abra. Ka Randy’s wife, Erlinda Lacaba-Echanis, is active in the peasants’ movement and the former chief-of-staff of Anakpawis Party-list. Ka Randy had two children, Ranmil and Amanda Echanis, who were both active in the youth and students’ movement.

Ka Randy was first exposed to activism as a student of the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines) in the 1960s when he joined rallies condemning the United States’ war of aggression against Vietnam and immersed in other student and social issues. As a college student, he joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM – Patriotic Youth) and became chairperson of KM – University of the East Chapter in 1970, and participant of the First Quarter Storm of 1970.

In the late 1970s, Ka Randy was among the activists who heeded KM’s call to “Serve the People” in anticipation of and response to the Marcos fascist dictatorship and the total erosion of all illusions of democracy. As with many activists during his time, he was compelled to go underground and went to the countryside. There he helped in peasant education and organizing work in Cagayan Valley, Cordillera, and Ilocos regions. He contributed in organizing the first militant peasant associations in Cagayan Valley region until his warrantless arrest in July 1983 by elements of the then Ministry of National Defense Security Group under Colonels Gregorio Honasan, Red Kapunan, and Rodolfo Aguinaldo.

From 1983 to 1984, Ka Randy was detained under solitary confinement and held incommunicado in Camp Aguinaldo. Even close relatives and lawyers were not allowed to visit him. From 1984 to 1986, he was transferred to Camp Adduru, Regional Command 2 Stockade in Tuguegarao, Cagayan until his release in March 1986. Ka Randy was under solitary confinement for two years.

He was among the political prisoners released after the EDSA People Power Uprising. After his release in 1986, Echanis joined the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA) and became a member of its national council. He also became a founding member of Partido ng Bayan (Peoples’ Party) and a member of its preparatory organizing committee.

Ka Randy went back to peasant organizing in 1987 until his second arrest by combined elements of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), the Naval Intelligence and Security Force (NISF), and the NCRDC, three years after in 1990.

He was held in a safe house for one week and subjected to physical and emotional torture before his transfer to Camp Crame Custodial Center together with his wife Erlinda Lacaba and their daughter, then two-year-old Amanda Echanis, the youngest political prisoner at that time.

He was released from detention in 1992 after a case against him for supposed violation of PD 1866 (illegal possession of firearms in furtherance of rebellion) was dismissed by the Manila Regional Trial Court. He became active once more with SELDA and helped in processing claimants in a class suit against the Marcos dictatorship. Ka Randy also played an active part in human rights work and in the formation of the human rights watchdog Karapatan – Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights, now the biggest human rights advocacy organization in the country.

Due to his steadfast commitment to serving the Filipino peasant masses and rich experience in advancing the struggle for genuine and thoroughgoing land reform, Ka Randy was appointed deputy secretary-general of the militant peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) or Peasant Movement of the Philippines in 1999.

In 2001, he was elected member of the national council of the First Quarter Storm Movement in its Founding Congress. Since 2002, Ka Randy participated in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as a member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee for Social and Economic Reforms, with particular focus on its Agrarian Reform and Rural Development component.

As KMP deputy secretary-general, Ka Randy attended and represented KMP in numerous international peasant assemblies and conferences such as the World Farmers’ Assembly in France (2003), the World Social Forum in Brazil (2005), the World Anti-Imperialist Conference in Indonesia, the United Nations – FAO – International Planning Committee in Italy and a delegate to the 1st (2001) and 2nd (2004) Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle in The Netherlands.

Due to his unwavering commitment and further resolve to uphold the rights and welfare of the Filipino people, Ka Randy was charged with a trumped-up case of rebellion in February 2006, along with progressive party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo, Rafael Mariano, Crispin Beltran, Teddy Casiño, Liza Maza, and Joel Virador – collectively known as the Batasan 6. This rebellion charge was dismissed by the Supreme Court in July 2007.

Ka Randy served as consultant of Anakpawis Partylist since 2007, through the terms of Rafael Mariano, Fernando Hicap, and Ariel Casilao. Through peasant consultations all over the country, he played an integral role in the crafting of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) and in advocating for its passage into law.

On January 28, 2008, Ka Randy was arrested by suspected military and police elements wearing bonnets and civilian clothes at the Builders Training Center in Barangay Calumangan, Bago City, Negros Occidental. He was attending a consultation with farmers and farmworkers from National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) for the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill and in preparation for the 2nd National Rural Congress spearheaded by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on July 2008.

Together with NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Ma. Sison and Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, Echanis was accused of 15 counts of multiple murder in connection with the so-called “Leyte mass graves.” He was detained at the Provincial Jail in Brgy. Kauswagan, Palo, Leyte from January to July 29, 2008. He was transferred to Camp Crame, and then illegally transferred again to the highly congested Manila City Jail on August 2, 2008.

On August 11, 2009, the Supreme Court ordered Ka Randy’s provisional release from detention to enable him to participate in the NDFP-GRP peace negotiations where his expertise on genuine agrarian reform is of crucial importance. Immediately after his release on August 14, 2009, Ka Randy played a key role in propagating the NDFP’s draft Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER). He served as a resource person on the education and lecture series spearheaded by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP).

In 2010, he was elected as national chairperson of the Anakpawis Party-list and became the third nominee of the progressive party list. He continued his life-long involvement in the practical struggle of the toiling masses.

From 2016 to 2017, he actively participated in the peace negotiations between the GRP and NDFP as a member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (SER). He attended hundreds of peace consultations all over the country and consolidated the appeals of urban and rural poor with the recommendations of scientists, experts, industry leaders, and advocates, building a historical NDFP CASER draft. In the last formal session of the peace negotiations, Ka Randy led the reaching of an agreement between the GRP and the NDFP on the principle of free land distribution to farmers. The talks were however unilaterally terminated by the Duterte government.

By 2018, Ka Randy was included by the Department of Justice in an absurd proscription list of 600 names and aliases of supposed terrorists under the Human Security Act. This was however eventually withdrawn after strong public opposition.

Ka Randy’s principled and consistent perseverance in advancing the interest of peasants and the people for substantive socio-economic reforms such as land reform, rural development, social justice, and a lasting peace was however abruptly ended last August 10, 2020. At around 1:30am, five state agents forcibly entered Ka Randy’s rented house and stabbed him to death.

For about fifty years, Ka Randy participated in forming the foundations of a nationwide peasant and national liberation movement, persistently consolidating and building these movements through various victories and defeats, all amid the rabid fascist attacks of successive reactionary regimes. His death is wanted only by despotic landlords and militarist peace spoilers.

His life and memory will be embedded and immortalized in the fruitful struggle of the Filipino peasantry and entire people. Achieving justice for Ka Randy is in the continuing advancement and ultimate realization of the struggle for genuine land reform and a just peace. ###

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