Why should I back down
when you continue to strangle
and oppress peasant farmers
and besiege the masses?

Why should I back down
When you continue to plunder
The country’s coffers,
To kill, jail,
And kidnap
Who oppose you?

Why should I back down
When you continue to lick the boots
Of greedy multinationals
Who pillage the riches of my beloved country?

I will never back down,
Not while vain tyrants
Sit in palaces,
Not while laborers
Lay shackled.
I will never back down.


I open this journal with the words of Randall Echanis, a beloved Filipino peasant leader and peace advocate who had endured the last seven regimes.

He was arrested and detained under three administrations, beginning with Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino in the 1980s, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the new millennium. His life ended in the small hours of August 10, 2020, when he became one of at least 160 other Filipino political activists who have been killed since Rodrigo Roa Duterte came to power in 2016.

Randall Echanis was 72 years old and living alone in Quezon City when unidentified men forced their way into his apartment. When the men left, Echanis and a neighbor who responded to the disturbance, were found bound and lifeless.

That the killings happened to one of the most respected activists in the city center, where one of the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns was imposed, made the murder even more foul. Subsequently, the police attempted to steal his remains from his family.

An independent autopsy by forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun later overruled the earlier police reports that Randall was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. Fortun said his body showed multiple superficial stab wounds. This indicates that “he was made to suffer before he was killed” by a fatal stab to the aorta.

Postmortem photos of Randall’s grim visage were subsequently released to the public by activist organizations. The release of the photographs served to condemn cowardice and the unspeakable violence that was committed against one of the of the most devoted figures of the peasant movement. It also served to illustrate a raging disbelief:

How could someone like Randall⁠ — who was always so warm and animated, always there to raise a clenched fist⁠ — now be so still⁠, so cold and unmoving?

Why bring up the painful murder of Randall Echanis, recount his words and photographs as I begin this project about the Worcester photographic collection?

It is because we live in a time of continuous state violence and political attacks in the Philippines. These injustices should disturb and connect our every waking and dreaming as Artists and Filipinos. We should make it our unquestionable duty to push back.

When I was given access to the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum American colonial images related to the Philippines, I have not yet read about about Dean Worcester, the First and Second Philippine Commission, Pitapit, the origins of Session Road, Julian Montalan, El Renacimiento, or Aves de Rapina.

It was just days after the killing of Randall Echanis, in August 2020, when I met with the director and curators of the photographic collection. I remember being asked about my impressions of the images. I also remember that I responded that it was still largely a blur.

But what was instantly indelible in my mind were the photographs of a man, taken from various views and sides which were simply accompanied by the caption, “Felizardo, ladrone leader from Bacoor, Cavite, after post mortem.” I said it is the earliest in a series of postmortem photographs of a Filipino that I have ever seen, and that I was certain that he was not a thief and might be someone heroic.