Tug of war over slain peasant leader’s body


    THE Quezon City Police District yesterday took back custody of the remains of Anakpawis chairman Randall Echanis from his grieving family, pending validation if the cadaver is indeed the 72-year-old peasant leader.

    QCPD spokeswoman Lt. Johanna Sazon said the body belongs to “Manuel Santiago” based on the identification card recovered by police investigators from him at the crime scene on Monday.

    Santiago and alleged Sputnik gang member Louie Tapia were found dead with stab wounds at the apartment of Santiago in Novaliches, Quezon City. Police said the two were killed by five still unidentified suspects.

    Sazon said an investigation is underway to determine the identities of the suspects and their motive. The body of Tapia has been claimed by his family.

    The family of Echanis has identified the body of “Manuel Santiago” as that of Echanis.

    Leftist organizations and personalities also confirmed it was Echanis who was murdered.

    Yesterday, reports said cops from the QCPD arrested paralegal Pao Colabres who was watching over the body of Echanis. Reports said Colabres is detained at Camp Karingal for obstruction of justice.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, has directed the task force on extrajudicial killings to create a special team to investigate the killing of Echanis, adding that in view of the confusion over the identity of the body it would be necessary to confirm first if it was indeed the peasant leader.

    Guevarra said he issued the directive to the task force on the assumption that the body recovered was indeed that of Echanis and confirmed by his family.

    Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, meanwhile, lashed out at communist leader Jose Maria Sison, who claimed the government was behind the killing of Echanis.

    “He is not worth of any comment. He is hallucinating,” Año said of the Netherlands-based Sison, who on Monday blamed the government for the murder of Echanis, singling out Año who he said “has been boasting to his staff and other people that he has mapped out the locations of all social activists through the local governments and neighborhoods and that he can wipe them out the social activists anytime.”

    The body was initially brought to the Pink Petals Memorial Homes in La Loma, QC where Echanis’ family and friends claimed it and later transferred it to the St. Peter’s Chapels on Quezon Avenue, also in QC.

    Early morning yesterday, Sazon said QCPD operatives took custody of the body at the St. Peter’s Chapels because it was claimed by the relatives of Echanis from the funeral parlor without a release order from the QCPD’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit.

    “This is still under investigation, so the body should remain at Pink Petals,” said Sazon, adding the body has been brought back to the Pink Petals.

    “Some are claiming he is Echanis. We need proof that Echanis and Manuel Santiago is the same person,” she said, adding the family of Echanis should help the QCPD in finally settling the issue through procedures like DNA testing.

    Echanis’ wife, Erlinda, appealed for sympathy from the police, saying they should return the remains of her husband so funeral rites can be conducted.

    The family’s lawyer, Luz Perez, said a release order from the PNP was not necessary because the body has been identified by Echanis’ wife as that of her husband.

    “There is no authority on the part of the police to retrieve the body. They have no court order. This is clear harassment on their part. They want to prove they have a hold over the body of the deceased,” said Perez.

    Echanis is the chairman of Anakpawis and deputy secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. He also served as consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in the terminated peace talks with the government.

    Lawyer Edre Olalia, a legal counsel of the NDFP negotiating panel, said: “I was too kind and spoke too soon about expecting basic decency and respect for the dead and the bereaved family.

    “The QC police snatched away the cadaver of Randy from the funeral parlor in the dead of the night purportedly because there was ‘no release order’ yet. But the facts are staring at them,” Olalia said.

    Olalia said “there is dubious legal for this absurd and outrageous move. – With Ashzel Hachero and Gerard Naval