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Arrest of Philippines activist “symptomatic of the deteriorating situation of human rights”

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The arrest of militant leader Randall Echanis in the Philippines takes the number of political prisoners in the country to 240, marking a continued deterioration of the human rights situation under the rule of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, according to Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainee Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA), an organisation dedicated to helping political prisoners.

A group of peasant leaders and activists gathered in a training center in Bago City, Negros Occidental, for a conference on genuine agrarian reform. One of those present was Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis, deputy secretary-general of the militant peasant organisation Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and a consultant in peace talks for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

During the consultations, armed men showed up to arrest Echanis. He was charged with 15 counts of murder of suspected government spies within the communist New People’s Army during 1984, which led to the discovery of alleged mass graves in Leyte. It was January 28, days after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo extended the term of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Hermogenes Esperon, who had vowed to render the communist insurgency “inconsequential” by 2010. He declared that the next few months would be “bloody,” and called the capture of Echanis “a big blow to the communist movement.”

Echanis is not the only political prisoner of the Arroyo regime. There are currently 240 prisoners in detention by the count of Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainee Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA), an organisation dedicated to helping political prisoners. Donato Continente, SELDA spokesperson and a political prisoner for 16 years, pointed out that crimes against persons are easier to fabricate than crimes against the public order, leading to a growing number of “criminalised” political prisoners.

The growing number of political prisoners under the Arroyo regime is symptomatic of the deteriorating situation of human rights in the country, marked by a broad spectrum of violations that includes extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Please go to the following website to view the full report.