A history of activism
Echanis studied at the Philippine College of Commerce or PCC, now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), and the University of the East (UE) in the 1960s. It was at the PCC that he got his first exposure to activism. He was later made chairman of the UE chapter of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM or Patriotic Youth).
In the 1970s, at the height of martial law, Echanis took to the countryside where he did peasant organizing work in the Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, and Cordillera Regions.
He was arrested in 1983 and was placed for two years under solitary confinement at Camp Aguinaldo, the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Following his release in 1986 by virtue of then President Corazon Aquino’s general amnesty proclamation, Echanis co-founded the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainee Laban sa Detensyon at Para sa Amnestiya (Selda or Society of Ex-Detainees for Liberation from Detention and for Amnesty), as well as the Partido ng Bayan (PnB or People’s Party).
In 1987 he went back to the countryside and became active again in peasant organizing until his arrest in 1990. Following his arrest, he was kept for a week in a safehouse, where he was tortured. He was eventually transferred to the PNP Custodial Center, where he was detained along with his daughter Amanda, then two years old. He was released in 1992 after the court dismissed the case of illegal possession of firearms in furtherance of rebellion filed against him.
In 1999, during the KMP’s fifth National Congress, he was elected as the group’s deputy secretary-general for external affairs. In 2001 he was elected to the National Council of the First Quarter Storm Movement (FQSM). Since 2002, he has been helping in the GRP-NDFP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines) peace negotiations as a member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee for Social and Economic Reforms.
At the time of his third arrest, he was attending a conference on agrarian reform initiated by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA or Union of Workers in Agriculture).
Deepening social insights
Echanis said his incarceration at the Manila City Jail has only deepened his insights on what is wrong with society and why it has to be changed. Many of his fellow inmates there, he said, are either slum dwellers or farm workers – people too poor to afford legal services. Most of them are in for theft or drug-related offenses. “Through my conversations with them, I have come to know more about the oppression that they suffer from day to day,” he said.
“A lot of them are from the urban poor communities and unable to find decent employment,” he said. “Because of this, they are easily drawn to crimes like theft and drug-related offenses.”
The prison conditions at the Manila City Jail are not conducive to rehabilitation, however, and Echanis said that keeping one’s sanity in such conditions could be a challenge. “Those who are sane could go insane here,” he said.
Still, Echanis has happily not lost his resolve to fight his battles – be it the fight for his own freedom or the larger political fight.
“My determination to fight, not only for my immediate freedom but for my hasty return to the movement outside to continue my work there, is whole,” he said. “It also helps a lot that there are expressions of support and there are always visits.”
Aside from that, I am also able to follow what is happening outside and this convinces me that we have to work hard toward genuine change in our society,” he added.(Bulatlat.com)