MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:55 p.m.) — The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict on Friday presented an alleged former communist rebel amid cotroversy sparked by the government alleging that the Communist Party of the Philippines controls activist groups, which the task force calls “front groups”.

Jeffrey Celiz, who said his alias was “Ka Eric,” said in a live stream aired on the NTF-ELCAC Facebook page that he is a former cadre of the armed wing of Communist Party of the Philippines “with 27 years of revolutionary experience.” 

According to an invitation to the press conference sent out Thursday, Celiz spoke at the National Press Club in Manila. 

He was also joined by some six individuals who remained masked and did not speak for the rest of the live stream.

Celiz claimed they were also former communist rebels. 

“I am facing the nation today…I am living proof that there is no such thing as red-tagging done by the government. Not only General Parlade or the military, or the NTF-ELCAC,” he said. 

Red-tagging is defined by Philippine jurisprudence as “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy… by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State.’”

The UN Human Rights Office and the Commission on Human Rights have stressed that the practice puts activists and rights workers in danger. The UN Human Rights Office in June said that the practice has become “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.” 

READ: Labeling dissent as rebellion ‘institutionalized, normalized’ in Philippines — UN report

“The focus is diverted to discrediting the messengers rather than examining the substance of the message. This has muddied the space for debate, disagreement and for challenging state institutions and policies,” the UN body’s report read.

Celiz accused around 24 “mass organizations” in the country of being recruiters for the New People’s Army. He also said that he intends to give a presentation to the Senate regarding these groups.

“I am [in the] process of executing my affidavit and sworn statement,” he said. 

The Senate committee on national defense has set a hearing on red-tagging and will summon military officials as well as officers of Gabriela Women’s Party. The hearing, called by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, was prompted by a “warning” that Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., task force spokesman, to celebrities Liza Soberano and Catriona Gray to disassociate from Gabriela.

Soberano was a guest on a webinar organized by Gabriela Youth. Gray has not had interactions with Gabriela or its youth arm.

The so-called former rebel also tagged a number of lawmakers and claimed that a celebrity recently called out by Parlade was connected to the armed wing of the CPP. 

“I am coming out to support the Filipino people. The deceptive, manipulative, and skillful, masterful lies of the CPP-NPA-NDF and the recruitment of the different sectors, more particularly of the youth sectors and students, must be put to stop,” Celiz said. 

Singling out the alleged recruitment of the youth through so-called legal fronts, he claimed that he and other alleged communist rebels were first recruited at the age of 18. “I was recruited into the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) [at] West Visayas State University,” he said.

In a previous interview on radio DZRH, Celiz said he was recruited in UP Diliman.

He also accused members of the CPP-NPA of plotting to kill him for speaking to the public. 

Iloilo activist casts doubt on ‘Ka Eric’

Iloilo-based Daily Guardian reported Friday that Lean Porquia, son of slain activist Jory Porquia, said in a Facebook post that Celiz “could be behind the killing of Tatay, Jory Porquia, this year.”

Lean’s father was a Bayan Muna-Iloilo City coordinator who was shot dead at a coffee shop in the city last April.

Porquia is quoted in the Daily Guardian report as saying Celiz had been included among people whom President Rodrigo Duterte accused of being a drug protector in 2016.

A certain “Party list Rep. Jeffrey Celis” appears in the list, which the president announced in August 2016. Human rights groups have long questioned the accuracy of the government’s ‘narco-lists’.

Celiz, who also red-tagged Porquia, acknowledged that he was on the 2016 ‘narco-list’, but said that that does not mean what he is alleging is untrue.

He claimed that he was on the list as part of a government project that he said “project is covered by confidentiality and security purpose.”

“I don’t need to explain to you, why am I facing here?” he said.

The Daily Guardian also quotes Porquia as saying in reaction to Celiz’s DZRH interview that the supposed former rebel “was never from UP” as initially claimed.

“He was never a SAMASA member, I was the secretary general in 2006. He was never a regional coordinator of [the League of Filipino Students]. I should know, I was the LFS regional chair. He was never in our roll call in both organizations.”

Senate probe

Lacson, who chairs the Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation on Wednesday filed a resolution directing the panel to “exercise its oversight authority over the defense sector on the issue of red-tagging/red-baiting of certain celebrities, personalities, institutions, and organizations.” He recently announced that the probe would begin on November 3, Tuesday. 

The intended outcome of the probe, Lacson said in his resolution, is to craft “proper guidelines that will prevent misunderstanding between the public and the military and ensuring the protection of the constitutional rights of the people.”

While members of Gabriela and military officials are slated to attend, the celebrities that Parlade mentioned will not be as Lacson said their presence might disrupt the hearings.

Lacson is principal author at the Senate of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the implementing rules and regulations of which allow the government to publish its list of suspected terrorists online and in the national dailies.

RELATED: ‘Mother of red-tagging’: No process yet to remove names from terror list

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