The Duterte administration had no hand in the murder of National Democratic Front (NDF) consultant Randall Echanis, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
READ: Anakpawis top leader killed in QC residence
In a virtual press conference from Davao City, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government should not be blamed for the death of Echanis.
Roque issued the statement a day after Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison blamed Duterte and the President’s “gang of butchers” for the Echanis murder.
Roque told Sison to await the results of the investigation before making conclusions.
“Police are investigating. Do not blame the government because members of the CPP-NPA also have a history of killing each other,” he said in Filipino.
Echanis and his unidentified neighbor were killed in Novaliches, Quezon City early Monday morning when police forces allegedly raided the house of the long-time NDF consultant, a statement released by leftist group Anakpawis said.
Anakpawis said Echanis was reportedly “stabbed by suspected state forces inside his rented place in the wee hours of the morning.”
Apart from being an NDF consultant, Echanis served as chairman of Anakpawis and deputy secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
Echanis is the third NDF consultant killed in the country after Sotero Llamas in 2006 and Randy Malayao in 2019.
In a statement issued Monday, Sison said “Duterte and his gang of butchers are truly monstrous for murdering the unarmed Randall and his neighbor.”
Sison added that social activists were left with no choice but intensify their struggle against the “tyrant, butcher and plunderer Duterte” following the death of Echanis.
When sought for a reaction, Roque refused to comment further on Sison’s remarks against Duterte government.
“I would no longer answer that because that would be to dignify statements made by a worldwide notorious terrorist named Joma Sison,” Roque said.
The CPP-NPA has been branded as a terror organization by the Philippines, United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Anakpawis said police had taken Echanis’ body from a funeral home and a member of the group's paralegal team was arrested for supposed obstruction of justice.
Echanis, 72, had two gunshot wounds at the back of his head, multiple stab wounds on the back part of his body and "torture marks," said former Anakpawis sectoral representative Ariel Casilao.
The peace consultant's family has arranged for an autopsy to be conducted Wednesday, Casilao said.
The Quezon City Police District said the victim's family needs to present proof of Echanis' identity such as a "fingerprint or DNA test" after an identification card with the name Manuel Santiago was found in a rented apartment where he was found dead.
Echanis also presented himself as Manuel Santiago to the landlady, QCPD public information office chief Lt. Johanna Sazon said.
Casilao, however, said Echanis' wife positively identified him through a video conference after authorizing a lawyer to go the funeral home as a representative because she is a senior citizen and could not go out under quarantine rules.
"There's no business for the police to intervene or stop the family from grieving. If they say the investigation should continue, they can investigate while the family decides where to put the wake. It’s the decision of the family," he said.
Casilao said seven men wearing ski masks were seen outside Echanis' apartment on Monday midnight, citing information from a witness.
Echanis rented the apartment as he was undergoing medical treatment, he added.
"They barged in, they forcibly kicked the door," Casilao said.
The other fatality, an unidentified neighbor, heard the commotion and checked Echanis' unit, he added.
"Unfortunately when the person heard commotion, he checked and he was snatched and taken inside and killed also," Casilao said.
Sazon, citing the initial police report, said there was no mention of men barging into Echanis’ apartment.
The Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory will conduct an autopsy, she added.
The Department of Justice on Tuesday ordered the Task Force on Extra-Judicial Killing (EJK) to create a special investigating team to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Echanis murder.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra stressed that before the Task Force on EJK can start an inquiry, it must establish if the person is really Echanis, given the conflicting claims about his identity.
Guevarra said he would direct the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) Forensic Investigation Division to determine if the deceased person is indeed Echanis.
Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete noted that while there had been reports that Erlinda, the wife of Echanis, had positively identified the body as that of her husband, there is still a need for a thorough forensic examination.
“Considering questions about the identity of the victim, a thorough forensic examination may be necessary for the purpose. We leave it to experts to complete this identification,” he said.
Guevarra on Tuesday said the police should explain why they had to transfer the purported remains of Echanis from one funeral parlor to another.
"Ordinarily it's the family of the deceased who should determine the funeral arrangements, but here there seems to be a question as to the identity of the deceased," Guevarra said, in a text message sent to reporters.
"Nonetheless, the police should explain why it was necessary to transfer the body from one funeral parlor to another," he added.
Police said Echanis was not among the victims of the "stabbing incident," saying identification cards show the two men killed were Manuel Santiago and Louie Tagapia.
The militant party-list Anakpawis on Tuesday lambasted the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) for unlawfully "snatching" the remains of the Echanis.
According to Echanis' wife Erlinda Echanis, she had positively identified her husband's lifeless body which bore torture marks, multiple stab and gunshot wounds in a funeral home in La Loma, Quezon City; and along with other relatives, she managed to transfer Echanis' remains to a funeral of their choice last night. But not long after that, police came and forcefully took Echanis' remains for alleged absence of a "release order" from their office.
The police asserted that the cadaver was still "under investigation."
"This adds insult to our injury. It is both inhuman and unjust for the remains of my husband to be held under police custody and deprive us of having a proper and private mourning," Erlinda Echanis, also a former Chief of Staff of Anakpawis Party-list in the congress, said in a statement.
"Why is my husband's cadaver under investigation in the first place? It should be the perpetrators that should be hunted down and persecuted, not the lifeless body of my husband!" Echanis said.
Anakpawis on Tuesday said a paralegal keeping track of Echanis’ remains was arrested.
In a tweet, Anakpawis said Pao Colabres, the paralegal, was arrested after Echanis' body was forcibly taken by policemen from the La Loma station.
"A member of the paralegal team who is keeping track of the remains of Randy Echanis, after it was forcibly taken by the police into custody, was illegally nabbed by the La Loma Police and brought to the PNP Station 1," Anakpawis said in their tweet.
"The member of the paralegal team, identified as Pao Colabres, is now being taken at the Camp Caringal, QC, to be charged with 'obstruction of justice.'"
The chief of the Quezon City Police District-Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit urged Tuesday the family of Echanis, especially his wife, to go to the police and prove that the body found in Novaliches, Quezon City was him.