A senior peace adviser for the communist rebel movement, which has waged a decades-long war with the Philippine government, was killed along with a neighbor during a pre-dawn raid in a northern Manila suburb on Monday, police said.
Randall “Randy” Echanis, 72, a consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines – the political wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines – was slain at his home in Quezon City with the neighbor, according to information from police.
Police did not dispute that the raid had occurred but did not release a statement giving more information, such as why it took place. Lt. Johanna Sazon, a spokeswoman for local police, confirmed basic information about the two people being killed during the raid but did not release other details.
Ariel Casilao, a former leftist congressmen, confirmed the incident to BenarNews, condemning the killing of Echanis and alleging that his body was found with stab wounds.
“Our anger is beyond words. This is a culture of extrajudicial killings with impunity under the Duterte regime,” Casilao said. President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to crush the communist movement and its guerrilla wing, the New People’s Army, while rejecting any prospects of resuming peace talks with them.
“This is a declaratory act that national leaders of the legal-democratic movement are now targeted to be killed by the Duterte regime,” Casilao told BenarNews.
In recent months, Echanis was active in opposing a new anti-terrorism bill, which the president signed into law early last month. Human rights activists, for their part, have criticized provisions of the law as potentially being used to stifle public criticism of the Duterte administration’s drug war, which has left thousands of suspects and others dead since mid-2016.
The new law allows the government to carry out warrantless arrests of suspected militants and hold them without charge for up to 24 days. The legislation removes a clause requiring police to present suspects before a judge to determine whether they were tortured. It also creates a special anti-terrorism council, to be made up of presidential aides instead of members of the judiciary.
Rafael Mariano, a former Duterte cabinet official who leads a leftist farmers’ group, also condemned Echanis’ death.
The killing was the work of “state-backed mercenaries and death squads” in the police ranks, he alleged.
Echanis’ death came just two days after six suspected communist guerrillas, a government soldier, and a civilian were killed during a firefight in the northern Philippines.
Five soldiers were also wounded in that clash between members of the New People’s Army and the military in Santa Lucia, a town in Ilocos Sur, a province in northwestern Luzon.
The NPA has been waging a rebellion against the Philippine government since 1969 – Asia’s longest-running insurgency. The strength of the guerrilla force is estimated to be around 5,000 troops divided among 80 fronts all over the archipelago.
President Duterte, a former student of CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, had initially sought peace talks with the group when he took office in 2016. He subsequently called off that effort after accusing the guerrillas of not stopping attacks against government forces.
Sison, in a statement from the Netherlands where he lives in self-exile, condemned the killing of Echanis, whom he described as a “peaceful social activist” and considered an intellectual among his peers.
As a peace consultant, Echanis was covered by a safety and immunity agreement because of his status, but the government considered that as voided after the peace talks collapsed.
“The murder of Randall and his neighbor will have far-reaching consequences towards the intensification of the Filipino people’s struggle for national and social liberation against the evil Duterte regime,” Sison said.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Harry Roque did not immediately respond to requests for comment from BenarNews.
Earlier in the day, he indicated that the authorities were investigating the killings of Echanis and the neighbor.
“Let’s wait for the results of the police investigation before pinning the death of Echanis on anyone,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said, according to GMA News Online, a Philippine news site.
Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.