By VENMAR CECILLE
MANILA – Family, friends, and supporters of Amanda Echanis from different sectors launched the Panata sa Paglaya: Free Amanda Echanis Movement (FAEM) at the Alcantara Hall, Student Union Building, UP Diliman on August 26, 2023.
Artists, activists, and advocates, including Amihan National Chairperson Zenaida Soriano, former Gabriela Women Partylist Rep. Emmie de Jesus, former political prisoner and now Gabriela Secretary General Cora Agovida, playwright and director Boni Ilagan, Mykaela Reyes of Anakbayan attended the launch.
Also joining virtually were Thomas Hofland from the Netherlands and Sister Patricia Fox from Australia, and the Canada-Philippines Solidarity Organization.
Artists have also stood in solidarity with Echanis, recognizing her as a fellow cultural worker. Among them are Jose Terrence Ruiz, a visual artist and representative of the Philippines at the Venice Biennale in 2015, novelist Ronnel Vivo, and musician Ronaldo Vivo Jr.
“Our gathering today is a testament to our unwavering pursuit of justice. Amanda’s case resonates far beyond her individual experience, representing a broader struggle for human rights and the end of political persecution of peasant organizers by state forces,” said musician Tao Aves, FAEM Spokesperson.
Amanda Echanis was arrested by state security forces, less than a month after giving birth to Baby Randall Echanis. She was charged with illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and illegal possession of explosives, a non-bailable offense.
She is detained at the Cagayan Provincial Jail in Tuguegarao City with Baby Randall, who will turn three on Oct. 25, 2023.
“Two years and eight months have passed but my daughter remains detained with my grandson, Randall Echanis, over charges they did not commit,” said Linda Lacaba, mother of Amanda Echanis.
Despite the situation of Echanis, Lacaba said that her daughter remains strong, not only as a mother but as a woman fighting for liberation.
“She is a steadfast ally of families who were victimized by the demolition in the urban poor communities. She fights for genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization. She continues to fight for the people to achieve national democracy,” said Lacaba.
Echanis was an urban poor organizer of Anakpawis from 2016 to 2019, and later she became a peasant women organizer under Amihan Cagayan. She was active in campaigns against the detrimental impacts of the Rice Liberalization Law, recurring drought, and the impacts of typhoons in the province.
Prior to her arrest, Echanis was involved in Kampanya Kontra-Gutom, a collective campaign against hunger and poverty amid the pandemic and the militarist response of the Duterte administration.
“She is not only our daughter. She is our comrade in fighting for genuine freedom,” Lacaba added.
Her daughter’s situation reminded Lacaba of her own experience as an activist. She was part of the Free Nilo Tayag Movement in 1971, utilizing the campaign to organize more women and youth to call for the release of Tayag and all political prisoners at the height of Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship.
“And this will serve as our inspiration. As long as there are people fighting for us, and mobilizing more people, we will definitely reach our freedom. Our collective action will bear fruit,” said Lacaba.
Echanis expressed her deepest gratitude, through a letter sent to the organizers, for all the people who continue to support and call for her release.
“They may incarcerate my body, but never my resolve to fight,” she said.
In her update, Echanis mentioned that she is currently studying online for the Bachelor of Arts in Malikhaing Pagsulat of UP Diliman. “Here, I continue to write stories and I hope that one day, we will be able to see my work materialize into theater acts or films.”
She also highlighted that the movement will reach more milestones since it is established by the “most inspiring” people she knew.
“My only desire is to be with you in body, for everyone to feel my appreciation because we remain committed to standing up for the people, that we remain determined in our collective endeavors amid the attacks,” Echanis said.
The FAEM evolved from the previously Free Amanda Echanis Network (FAEN), garnering broader support nationwide and from the international community.
Kit Kwe, co-convenor of FAEN, said that they did not expect that the campaign for Echanis’s freedom would take three years long. “However, our hearts are full to see that more of us here have gathered, many organizations have participated, to continue our efforts into a broader movement.”
FAEN has successfully organized fundraising events to provide for the needs of Echanis and Baby Randall in the Cagayan Provincial Jail, Tuguegarao City. Among these events are concerts, raffle programs, and the selling of merch.
“There are also efforts for the members of our network, which is now a movement, in publicizing her letters, interviews, and written works she has accomplished while she is in prison,” said Kwe.
She also highlighted that Echanis remains a symbol of hope for all political prisoners, and her campaign becomes a good avenue to increase public awareness about their plight and conditions.
The state of political prisoners
Jigs Clamor, Karapatan’s deputy secretary-general, said that there are 778 political prisoners in the country, of whom 56 were detained under the administration of Marcos Jr.
Clamor added that of this number, 95 are sickly, 155 are women, and 75 are elderly.
According to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), the current prison congestion rate is 358 percent. They also said that 329 out of 479 jail facilities in the country are still congested.
“These are the conditions faced by our political prisoners and the persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in general,” Clamor added.
He also mentioned that the budget for the political prisoners is largely insufficient. The average budget for food is 70 pesos per day.
“On top of these things, our political prisoners face reprisals when they exercise their right to protest through strike, fasting, or putting streamers,” he said.
Demanding for justice
Due to the abovementioned conditions of Echanis and all political prisoners in the country, the FAEM aims to put pressure on the Marcos Jr. administration, demanding immediate and unconditional release.
They also seek to align with other broad campaigns that call for the release of political prisoners such as the Free Our Sisters, Free Ourselves movement of the Gabriela, responding to the increasing number of peasant women and organizers who are detained over trumped-up charges.
“Amanda’s case is emblematic of a broader struggle against persecution. Her family, both on the Lacaba and Echanis sides, has a long history of activism and has faced harassment and detention. She was once the country’s youngest political prisoner with her parents in the 1990s,” explained Soriano, co-convenor of FAEM.
Her father, Randy Echanis, was a peace consultant and a peasant leader who had been a political detainee and repeatedly persecuted. He was brutally murdered in his rented home at the age of 72, by suspected government forces, bearing marks of torture and ill-treatment.