‘Sought military protection by lying’: Lawyer, groups question credibility of ex-NPA ‘red-tagging’ witness

November 5, 2020 - 7:16 PM
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The petitioners in the second lawsuit against the martial law extension (from L): NUPL chairman Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., ACT Rep. France Castro, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio and lawyers Minverva Lopez and Kathy Panguban are seen after filing the petition questioning the yearlong extension of martial law in Mindanao at the Supreme Court. (HANDOUT PHOTO FROM BAYAN)

The founder of the National Union of People’s Lawyers accused Jeffrey Celiz or “Ka Eric,” the star witness of the task force against local terrorism, of making false claims before the Senate panel tackling on the red-tagging issues.

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) introduced Celiz as a supposed former member of the New People’s Army to the Senate defense committee and “ace resource person” of Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command and NTF-ELCAC spokesperson.

Parlade’s previous remarks on celebrities Catriona Gray, Liza Soberano and Angel Locsin on their perceived involvement with Gabriela, which the military accused to be recruiting Communist Party of the Philippines members, triggered the Senate probe.

During the Senate probe on November 3, Celiz supported the military official’s claims that progressive groups are legal fronts of the CPP. He also alleged individuals such as Ella Colmenares, Locsin’s sister and former Rep. Teddy Casiño of the Bayan Muna Party-list are CPP members.

However, it was also disclosed in the hearing that the ex-rebel was included in President Rodrigo Duterte’s narco-list or list of personalities allegedly involved in drug trade in 2016.

When confronted about this, Celiz claimed that his inclusion in the list was related to “government project” or an undercover project of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency in Iloilo City.

Since his appearance before the media, Parlade’s witness had been inconsistent with his narratives about his identity, particularly with s recruitment to the communist rebellion.

NUPL on Celiz

Lawyer Jobert Pahilga, founding member of NUPL, countered Celiz’s claim of being a graduate of University of the Philippines-Diliman, saying that the latter never studied there.

In an opinion piece published in Manila Today, Pahilga wrote that he used to be classmates with Celiz at the West Visayas State University in La Paz, Iloilo City.

Pahilga speculated that the former activist fears to be a victim of the Duterte administration’s drug war, which had killed thousands of Filipinos in the urban poor, because of his previous ties with people allegedly involved in the drug trade.

“Spouses Odicta were killed. Mayor Mabilog fled. So no one can protect him or offer sanctuary to him anymore,” Pahilga said.

Pahilga was referring to Melvin and Merriam Odicta, who were involved in a drug syndicate in Iloilo and killed in 2016 and former Mayor Jed Mabilog who was among the personalities in the narco-list. Mabilog and his family fled the country in 2017.

This fear forced Pahilga to “sell” his supposed information about the NPA to military officials and seek their protection from being killed.

“My view is that Mr. Celiz sought the protection of the military in 2017 by lying or ‘selling’ to them his supposed ‘extensive’ knowledge of the operation of the left. He lied to the military in exchange for protection because he is a drug personality. And we all know that during this time of Duterte, known drug personalities, one by one, are killed,” Pahilga said.

Plaridel Nava, a former councilor in Iloilo and a vocal critic of Mabilog, also asserted having known Celiz for years and described him as being “gifted in drawing untruthful stories.”

“At the behest of his boss Jed Mabilog, Celiz was responsible for writing and propagating the so-called ‘white paper’ that maliciously implicated me and some anchormen of Aksyon Radyo in the drug trade in the city. That’s how insane he is,” Nava said on Facebook.

Similar to Pahilga, Nava speculated that Celiz was desperate to survive following the latter’s links to illegal drugs.

“He has become a loose cannon and a deserter after he was tagged by Duterte as part of the narco-lists. He will do everything to survive,” Nava said.

Progressive groups’ views on red-tagging

Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Women’s Party) perceived that the government should have allocated their resources to help victims of Super Typhoon Rolly instead.

“Tila mas naghanda pa sila para sa Senate hearing kaysa sa pagsaklolo at paglilikas sa ating mga kababayan. They went full force in the Senate hearing with their recycled and baseless claims while millions of Filipinos are reeling from the disastrous impacts of typhoon Rolly amid the pandemic. This red-tagging show is a waste of people’s taxes. It must be put to an end,” Brosas said.

The Concerned Artist of the Philippines, meanwhile, likened the red-tagging in the country to McCarthyism in the United States during post-war years.

McCarthyism refers to the series of investigations led by US Sen. Joseph McCarthy about an alleged communist infiltration, subsequently leading to Hollywood blacklists and imprisonment.

“This recalls the Hollywood blacklists of the post-war years and McCarthyist witch hunts in the US to the Philippines during the 1950s, which only led to grave rights violations of citizens and should never happen again,” CAP said.