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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Assassination ‘akyat-bahay’ style

By: Ma. Ceres P. Doyo (Human Face column) – @inquirerdotnetPhilippine Daily Inquirer / August 13, 2020

Cliché though it sounds, the killing of Randall Echanis was the kind that ran chills down one’s spine. It did not look like most killings of political figures recorded on police blotters.

Terrified citizens have, by now, learned to use the words “riding in tandem” to describe hooded riders who finish off their targets with bullets — journalists, judges, politicians, even priests. The countless kills carried out by riding-in-tandem guns-for-hire have become commonplace, as in, so what’s new, except to the bereaved who are shocked beyond belief.

The way Echanis was killed baffles. It was not the kind that happens in dimly lit alleys or in street corners with karaoke joints where Sinatra wannabes are stabbed to death over a note gone awry.

Echanis was a political figure. I do not know him personally. I have not met him at all. I only know persons who are related to him by marriage, among them his spouse Linda, whom I had seen a few times in gatherings I had covered.

The killing of Echanis, a peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front, the umbrella group to which the armed New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines belong, is something out of the box. “A new modus,” a “new format,” said those who have yet to find words for it.

Last Tuesday’s Inquirer banner headline said: “Adviser to reds killed,” bylined Jodee A. Agoncillo, while the online version (inquirer.net) had more space for “Peace talks adviser to NDFP killed at home.” Both had the blurb: “Randall Echanis was stabbed in his apartment in the wee hours of Monday. He is the third consultant to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to be killed, and the second under the present administration.”

Murder it definitely was, but no doubt also an assassination. The intent to kill was obvious. Assassination differs from murder in that the former has to do with the killing of a known figure and especially if politics played in it. Like the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.

If I may digress, years ago I interviewed and wrote about an assassin (“Confessions of a Hired Assassin,” Sunday Inquirer Magazine). That was before “riding-in-tandem” became the modus of choice. This killer simply fired away. The article is included in my book “Journalist in Her Country.” The assassin who admitted to so many kills was the half-brother of the head of the Philippine Air Force at that time. He arranged the interview and has since acknowledged their blood ties in his Facebook posts.

Whatever it is called — an assassination or a murder — the “akyat-bahay” (porch climbers) modus carried out on Echanis is shocking and worrisome. It was carried out in the wee hours by men who barged into a private abode. It did not look like a police raid, there was no arrest being effected. There was no firefight.

Echanis died of multiple stab wounds. It was an assassination by multiple stabbing. (Why do I suddenly recall President Duterte foggily talking about using bayonets? In this day and age.)

A neighbor who tried to check on the commotion going on in Echanis’ apartment was also killed. Echanis was not even a wanted man.

If the killing could be blamed on criminal elements, say burglars, if it was not a police operation, why did police operatives, giving strange reasons, seize Echanis’ body from the family’s choice of funeral parlor and transfer it to the police’s choice of funeral parlor? Confirmation of true identity needed, police said. The saying “dead men tell no tales” may not apply in the case of Echanis.

And what do you know, a paralegal who was at the vigil was arrested.

Government spokesperson Harry Roque warned against blaming the government for Echanis’ death, saying that those from the anti-government left have also been known to kill one another or something to that effect.

The recently signed anti-terrorism law that has earned a record 27 groups filing petitions against it with the Supreme Court is feared to become an aid to warrantless arrests and other government operations against citizens suspected to be shaking the status quo.

The way Echanis was killed spoke loud and clear. Who had him killed? Why in akyat-bahay style?

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