Justice for Randy Echanis

“Reinvent the Pursuit of Peace” is the second installment in the trilogy of letters compiled by peace advocates former Senator Wigberto “Bobby” Tañada and Edmundo “Ed” Garcia. This short letter was written on 27 May 2020 by both Bobby Tañada and Ed Garcia in order to inspire and urge their fellow citizens to re-imagine the pursuit of peace.

The letter lamented the four decades of peace missions and initiatives by various quarters which have largely fallen on deaf ears. Surely, after numerous peace missions, ceasefire agreements and peace negotiations initiated by administrations that have come and gone as well as various peace advocacy groups, the hostilities between the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines continue unabated. Thousands of innocent civilians as well as combatants have been killed, brutalized, displaced and lives wreaked by this long-running insurgency, yet the end is nowhere in sight as the two opposing forces continue to slug it out for political supremacy. Tañada and Garcia both decry the miserable failure by these efforts to convey the vital and critical message that “a permanent cessation of hostilities through a negotiated political settlement was imperative to end a fratricidal war that has been waged “in the name of the people.”

Tañada and Garcia pointed out that the failure by both sides “to grasp, however, is that we have a potential “peace team” of millions of Filipinos who aspire to live in a country at peace, and whose energies we can unleash to turn a new leaf as a people.” Because of this, according to them, “proposed citizens’ peace agenda that had been laboriously crafted by concerted assemblies of peace advocates in the National Peace Conference and the Waging Peace gatherings were regularly conveyed to both conflict parties insisting that the time to build a just and lasting peace had come.”

In the context of the coronavirus pandemic that continues to rage around the globe, an ideological and violent warfare is an unwanted distraction. As Tañada and Garcia pointed out: “As our country confronts a vicious contagion that threatens in the long run to break down our fragile health system. At the same time, we face an uncertain future where the livelihoods of numerous people have either been lost or endangered, pushing more people into poverty and hunger.” This unprecedented health crisis presents a unique opportunity “like never before to focus singly and wholly on addressing our people’s health concerns and our common aspirations to reduce both poverty and inequality in our midst. It offers us an “opportune moment” to heal the wounds of war.” Indeed, war must end and refocus our undivided attention, resources and collective efforts as a nation to fighting this contagion and staving off the economic fall out of this viral scourge.

From their standpoint, there is no other opportunity that will present itself to us in our lifetime. Therefore, the people must summon the wisdom and courage to pursue a lasting peace that will benefit this and generations to come. Our response to these challenges will be our defining moment, as it will demonstrate who we truly are, and who the Filipino can be, they said. According to the letter writers, “history will be a harsh judge if we fail to take up this immense responsibility to dismantle the apparatus of war and begin to build a different mind-set at this late hour” and “Now, indeed, is the time to rewrite a different story, turn the page and never turn back.”

As I was writing this column, I received news of yet another assassination of a peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. According to Rappler, Randall “Randy” Echanis, a long-time peasant and activist leader, was killed at his home, allegedly by police forces. Seventy-two years old, Randy was chair of Anakpawis and deputy secretary general of KMP and according to colleagues was being treated medically and unarmed when killed.

I echo National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia, who is quoted in the Rappler article and worked with Randy on the peace talks as the legal consultant of the NDFP negotiating panel. Olalia related the killing to the anti-terror law: “Is there no more space at all for robust dissent, protest and advocacy if it will rock the boat of the powerful and privileged political and economic rulers? With this latest apparent cold-blooded murder, the terror law may just be a formal legal cover.”

Randy is the third peace negotiator killed by enemies of peace. Obviously, his death has a chilling effect on the already faltering peace process.

There is no peace without justice. But no justice, which includes accountability and overcoming impunity, is possible too without peace.

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