Military's 'star witness' claims communist rebels recruiting kids in provinces

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 03 2020 09:34 PM | Updated as of Nov 03 2020 11:36 PM

Communist NPA fighters march in the Sierra Madre mountains in eastern Luzon. Noel Celis, Agence France-Presse/File

Celiz on Duterte's drug list, lawyer says

MANILA — The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People's Army (NPA) have been recruiting children as young as 6 years old to join the communist insurgency, a person who claimed to be a former rebel said Tuesday.

Children in rural areas tend to be easily recruited because they are exposed to communist rebels at a young age, Jeffrey "Ka Eric" Celiz, who defected from the CPP-NPA, said in a Senate hearing.

"Nagsisimula po 'yan sa rural areas maaga po talaga kasi ang mga pamilya ng mga kabataang ito — mga bata mismo as early as 8, 7, 6, o 10 —kahalubilo na sila ng NPA," he alleged.

(In rural areas, recruitment starts as early as 8, 7, 6 or 10-years old because their parents often mingle with the NPA.)

"Kung sa bario kahit hindi sila recruited, dun kami nakatira, kasama namin mga magulang nila so the children are exposed to the dangers of wars," he added.

(In small villages, even if they are not recruited, we live with them and their parents so the children are exposed to the dangers of wars.)

Communist rebels would disguise themselves as regular townsfolk and live with some locals - including children - giving them an opportunity to tell the kids about their ideologies and armed struggle, he said.

A more known way of recruiting youngsters to join the communist insurgency is through universities, Celiz said, claiming that he was recruited while studying at the Western Visayas State University (WVSU) in 1991.

"Akala ko ang aming pagsama sa aktibismo ay laban lamang sa abrogation ng US military bases," he said, noting that the presence of American troops in the Philippines was a big issue in the 90s.

(I thought that by being an activist, we will only fight for the abrogation of US military bases in the Philippines.)

"Pagdating doon, hindi na pinag-aaralan ang US military bases. Pinag- aralan na namin ang libro ni Joma Sison... na demokratikong rebolusyong bayan ang tanging solusyon," he said, referring to the founder of the CPP.

(But when we got there, we did not study about US military bases. We studied the books of Joma Sison... that democratic revolution is the only solution.)

"Akala ko 'yun na 'yun... Manunumpa din pala kami sa bandilang pula," he said, referring to the flag of the CPP.

(I thought that was it... But we were also made to swear before the red flag.)

Celiz also alleged that former and current party-list representatives of Bayan Muna, Gabriela, ACT Teachers, and Kabataan were all aware that minors were being recruited into the communist movement, saying they too were members of the CPP-NPA.

NUPL: Celiz was never an NPA member 

But National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) founder, lawyer Jobert Pahilga, said Celiz was not a member of NPA and that he lied during the Senate hearing for the military's protection. 

In a statement, Pahilga gave a timeline of Celiz’s whereabouts and career from 1994 until 2016, the year he was identified by President Rodrigo Duterte as an "illegal drugs personality". 

Pahilga said that Celiz was a full-time activist between 1994 and 2000 in Iloilo City, and eventually became the spokesperson and chairperson of Bayan Panay between 2000 and 2004. 

From 2006 to 2008, he said Celiz was “either in Manila or Tagaytay” and even became an English teacher for Koreans in Tagaytay for 8 months from February 2008 to December 2008.

Then in July 2009 until February 2010, he worked in Northern Samar as an organizer for Masipag and Plan Philippines’ joint project. 

Around August until March of 2009 and 2010, he said, Celiz helped him prepare for his bid as municipal mayor in Antique. 

“We then frequently met in Iloilo City. He also would go to our house in my hometown. At that time, Celiz also served as political strategist of then Iloilo City Vice-Mayor Jed Mabilog who was intending to run for Mayor in the 2010 elections,” he said. 

“From July 2010 until June 2016, he was working at City Hall of Iloilo. He even acted as spokesperson of Mayor Mabilog,” he added. 

The NUPL founder said after Celiz was linked by President Duterte to drug activities in Iloilo City, he disappeared. 

“Mr. Celiz suddenly disappeared from public view while Mayor Mabilog fled abroad. Mr. Celiz left his work at the city hall too. Since that time, no one in Iloilo City heard from him anymore. Now Mr. Celiz reappeared suddenly as star witness of Gen. Parlade,” he said. 

He explained it could be possible that Celiz was making things up because he needed protection from the military, saying personalities linked with illegal drug trade are killed in the country. 

“Having closely known him for the longest time, my studied opinion is that he is afraid to be a victim of extra-judicial killing under President Duterte's anti-drug war… 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,” he said. 

‘Present evidence’ 

Senate Committee on National Defense and Security chair Panfilo Lacson said Celiz and military officials who hired him as a consultant should present evidence to accompany the incriminating testimonies.

"As of now, puro words naririnig natin (all we hear are), testimonies... what more could convince us kung merong document that could address yung testimonies na pinapahayag dito," Lacson, a former Philippine National Police chief, said. 

"Ang challenge, prove. Provide the evidence that would show na 'yung mga party-list, mga legal front talagang (are really) affiliated under ng CPP," he said.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that most of the documents "are usually unsigned or signed under pseudonyms," but military officials said that they would discuss how to present the highly-confidential papers.

The lawmakers who were linked to the communist movement did not attend the Senate hearing, saying they were busy with relief efforts for victims of Typhoon Rolly.

Lacson said he would call for another hearing to give those who were accused of being part of the communist insurgency a chance to explain their sides.

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