Randy Echanis and Inhuman Jail Conditions

Being jailed is not new to KMP leader Randall Echanis, 60. His detention in January this year following his arrest in Bago City, Negros Occidental is his third already. It is the prison conditions he is now in that are new to him.

Vol. VIII, No. 30, August 31-September 6, 2008

Being jailed is not new to Randall Echanis, 60, deputy secretary-general for external affairs of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines). An activist for decades now, he had been incarcerated during the Marcos and Aquino administrations. His detention in January this year following his arrest in Bago City, Negros Occidental is his third already.

It is the prison conditions he is now in that are new to him.

Following his arrest on murder charges stemming from allegations that he masterminded a purge within the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in Inopacan, Leyte in 1984, Echanis – who was in prison at the time the alleged purge took place – was detained at the Provincial Jail in Palo, Leyte. In late July, he was transferred to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, but, only a few days later, was again transferred, this time to the Manila City Jail.

When Bulatlat visited to interview him for this article, he was sitting in a cubicle, one of many in Dorm 3 and other “dormitories” at the said jail. His cubicle is just big enough to fit a bed on which Echanis – who is of average height for a Filipino – could not even lie down with his body fully stretched. From his cubicle you could barely see the outside of the jail: poet Amado V. Hernandez, who was imprisoned in Muntinlupa on trumped-up “rebellion complexed with murder and other crimes” charges in the 1950s, was “lucky” he could even see “isang dipang langit” (a stretch of sky) from his cell, because Echanis can see less than that.

The cubicles are either for sale for anywhere between P5,000 ($108.88 at the Aug. 29 exchange rate of $1:P45.92) and P70,000 ($1,524.39) or for rent anywhere from P600 ($13.07) a month. The more money you have, the bigger the cubicle you could get.

Even at these rates, however, the rows of cubicles in the “dormitories” look more like rows of shanties.

Still, those among the 244 detainees in Dorm 3 who could afford to either buy and rent cubicles are better off compared to those who cannot, because the latter have no choice but to sleep on the floor at night.

“If you try to get out of your cubicle at night to use the comfort room, you are sure to step on heads,” Echanis said. “You’d have nothing to step on but heads.”

Quiapo, where the City Jail is located, is one of Manila’s most flood-prone areas, and the detainees are not spared from the troubles that floods bring.

“We get a lot of flood here when it rains hard,” Echanis said as he showed us his pair of rubber boots. “When it floods, those who have no cubicles have to share space with those who do when sleeping time comes.”

In the mornings, the detainees wake up to the fact that they would have no power supply until noon. “They say that it is being done to save electricity,” Echanis explained.

But that is not all that they have to put up with. When the time for meals comes, they have to bear with food the quality of which is unthinkable.

“You really can’t eat the food here,” Echanis said. “I’m used to eating just about anything, but the food here is something you really can’t eat.”

For Echanis, adding to the difficulties that all these bring is the fact that he has been placed in a jail where riots are known to be frequent. He was already there when one of these riots took place recently. “It is a very stressful situation because you can never know what will happen to you,” he said.

His present prison conditions have affected his health, said Echanis, who has hypertension.

The KMP leader said that even during his incarceration during the Marcos and Aquino regimes, he did not experience anything like what he now has to deal with on a daily basis.

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