Detained peasant activist Randall Echanis and his colleagues from the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines), Pamalakaya, the Amihan Peasant Women’s Association, Anakpawis Party-list, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines have been fasting the whole day to protest the latter’s continuing imprisonment.
Echanis, deputy secretary general for external affairs of the KMP is fasting inside his cell at the Manila City Jail while his supporters do the same while camping out in front of the Supreme Court.
Echanis was arrested by police and military elements on January 28 last year in Bago City, Negros Occidental while holding a consultation with sugar workers. He was charged with multiple murder for the alleged “mass graves” in Leyte. The same case has been filed against Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo. Echanis filed a petition for certiorari before the High Court last December.
Among those who have joined Echanis on his fasting were his son Ranmill Echanis, Antonio Flores, KMP national auditor, Sr. Pat Fox of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Salvador Frances, Pamalakaya-Pilipinas spokesperson, Cathy Estabillo of Amihan Cherry Clemente, Anakpawis national secretary general.
Pedro Gonzales, Pamalakaya-Southern Tagalog secretary general and Axel Pinpin of Tagaytay 5 also joined the fasting. Tagaytay 5 refers to five peasant leaders and members arrested in Tagaytay City and imprisoned for more than a year. The court later dismissed the charges of rebellion against them for lack of evidence.
The KMP criticized the Arroyo government for treating Echanis like a common criminal and not as a political prisoner.
The group also scored the prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) for repeatedly opposing Echanis’ petition for medical check up. Echanis developed an inflammation of the gall bladder and enlargement of the prostate. Doctors from the Philippine Heart Center said Echanis needs medical surgery.
KMP’s Flores said, “[It’s] as if they are trying to kill him [Echanis] slowly inside the jail by blocking all medical measures…These prosecutors are inhumane and brutal…Ka Randy is already old and sickly.”
In a statement, the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK), the local KMP chapter in the Southern Tagalog region, said their leaders, like Echanis, have also been accused of ‘trumped-up’ charges.
Rogelio Galit, Kasama-TK public relations officer, was forcibly taken by elements of the Police Regional Office-Calabarzon and Police Provincial Office-Cavite from his home at Silang, Cavite last November. He has been detained since at the Calapan City Provincial Jail in Mindoro Oriental.
Galit, along with 71 others, have been implicated in an ambush conducted by the New People’s Army (NPA) against the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Mindoro Oriental in March 2006. They are facing multiple murder charges.
Other regional peasant leaders who have been charged are Renato Alvarez, Kasama-TK chairperson, Orly Marcellana, Kasama-TK secretary general and Rommel Valdez of Katipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka).
The peasant groups said the ‘trumped-up charges are part of the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency program.’
They pointed to the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) headed by the DOJ and the National Security Adviser as responsible for the so-called legal offensives against activists. “They are accusing activists of common crimes so as to hamper the latter’s organizing work…These measures are railroaded by the DOJ prosecutors themselves, bypassing due process, without preliminary investigation and immediately issuing warrants of arrests,” Flores said.
The groups vowed to continue holding protest actions calling for the immediate release of Echanis and other political prisoners.(Bulatlat.com)