On Christmas Eve, Linda Echanis was spending the day alone. Still, she put on a special, bright green blouse embroidered with a yellow and purple pattern covering her collar. It extended to the back in what almost looked like coattails. She wore black closed shoes and set out other essentials on a table: a transistor radio and Great Taste Black Coffee.
That day, there was a chance her daughter and grandson might have a video chat with her. After losing her husband, Randall Echanis, this would be the first Christmas holiday Linda would be speaking with a direct family member.
Linda thought of all the things they might be able to talk about in the allotted half-hour for “e-dalaw” while she prepared her food early — leftover fried bangus with white rice and a few eggs to boil. She did not want her Noche Buena meal to distract her from the call.
She put out a picture of her daughter Amanda, holding her fist high. Beside it, an image of baby Randall, Amanda’s son. Since December last year, Amanda Echanis has been incarcerated with her baby at the Cagayan Provincial Jail.
At 9 AM, Amanda was already queuing up for both the jail phone and the tablet, one for a phone call and the other for a video chat. Like every other inmate in her cell block, she was determined to reach her friends and family, maybe give them a good glimpse of Randall, and maybe grab the chance at some familiar holiday cheer. She hoped to spur a few moments of high spirits before the day dissolved into its characteristic solitude for mother, child and grandchild.
Love that binds
Linda thought about how she and her husband met. They fell in love as activist youths. When Randall accepted the task of organizing peasants in far-flung areas, a decision that shaped the rest of his life, Linda declined to join him.
“Ako ang nakipag-break,” she laughed to herself.
But, by some twist of circumstance, they wound up together 15 years later in 1986 while the nation was on the cusp of the EDSA uprising. A year after that, they were married. Add another year, Amanda was born. And two years after that, Linda was jailed along with her daughter, the youngest political prisoner. Linda and Amanda shared this strange bond, not just of mother and child, but of the particularly cruel fate of parenting behind bars.
By 11:30 AM, Amanda managed to call a few friends using the jail phone and instructed them to accompany and assist her elderly mother with the video chat by 2 PM. She spent 10 minutes on that phone after waiting most of the morning and was hoping the jail tablet’s mobile data wouldn’t run out before she’d have her turn. Thankfully, by 2 PM, she’d reached her mother.
At the sight of her daughter’s incoming call, Linda dashed across the room. She grinned when her daughter appeared.
“Ang ganda mo!” Linda said at the sight of her only daughter.
“Ikaw din! Ang ganda ng blouse mo!”
Linda’s eyes gleamed when baby Randall came on the screen. She gushed every time he did anything.
“Ang galing niya tumakbo! Ang husay niya maglakad! Ang gwapo ng ngiti niya!”
“Hello, ako si lola.”
Linda peered closely at the cellphone, excited at the chance to hear Randall’s first word. She recalled to her daughter how, as a child, Amanda used to recite “medyas” repeatedly. It was around the time that Linda and her husband argued about whether or not their baby girl needed to wear socks. Randall reasoned “dapat masanay siya nang wala. Pampalakas ng bata.”
“Ang dami naman niyang energy! Napakalakas na bata,” Linda continued her stream of affection. “Nagdedede pa siya, tama?”
“Opo Nay, di ba nga breast milk is best for babies up to two years,” joked Amanda.
“Ikaw nga hanggang three years old. Haha! Tumigil ka lang kasi nahihiya ka na sa mga kalaro mo.”
Linda and Amanda talked about their wishes, the kind of wishes that a mother cherishes, also the kind that victims of political persecution nourish. She mentioned her musings about a grave plot, possibly in some indefinite and difficult to imagine future, where she might live in a house safe from persecution with a yard where baby Randall could spend all the time he want to tiring out his legs to Linda’s delight.
As the jail guard motioned to Amanda to wrap things up, with other inmates gearing up to have a go at the tablet, Linda said her goodbyes. It was as though she was trying to fit as many mentions of “I love you” in the last few seconds of the call. Amanda couldn’t help but smile.
Hope for justice
Linda sat back down, staring at the pictures of her daughter and grandson. “Parang nandito rin sila, kasama ko sa Pasko.”
And then, with wide eyes and a triumphant smile: “Napansin niya ang blouse ko!”
It could not have been any clearer: Linda longed to be with Amanda and baby Randall. She stared at their pictures and wondered about what her grandson thought about all this. “Alam kaya niya na kinukuhanan siya ng picture? Alam na kaya niya na hindi sila makalabas? Nagugustuhan niya ba ang mga laruan niya?” These questions can only be answered when she meets him for the first time, in person. Sooner rather than later is her greatest wish, making up for this holiday season, and for every second of the year they are kept apart by state forces.
In uncertain and bleak times such as this, Linda got her chance at a video chat. Needless to say, the injustice of Amanda and baby Randall’s incarceration is what Linda and many others hope to be reversed in 2022.
Beside the images of her loved ones, Linda placed a handmade ornament in the shape of a tree. It was crafted by prison inmates. Amanda sent it to her mother, describing it as a near literal “puno ng pag-ibig at pag-asa.” These are two things that Linda and Amanda have an abundance of. They hope you do too.
Happy holidays. Free Amanda Echanis and baby Randall. Free all political prisoners.