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Casiño, artists slam ‘baseless’ accusations at Senate hearing on red-tagging

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Casiño, artists slam âbaselessâ accusations at Senate hearing on red-tagging
In this screengrab taken on Nov. 3, 2020, self-proclaimed former communist rebel Jeffrey Celiz, alias "Ka Eric," a witness brought forward by the NTF-ELCAC, addresses senators during a hearing on red-tagging.
Screengrab / NTF-ELCAC Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines —  Former Rep. Teddy Casiño (Bayan Muna Party-list) and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines on Tuesday night denied the allegations leveled against them by an alleged former communist rebel during a Senate hearing on red-tagging. 

Jeffrey Celiz, alias "Ka Eric," a witness presented by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict to the Senate defense committee, alleged that Casiño was part of the Communist Party of the Philippines. He also claimed that groups such as the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) and the Musicians and Artists of the Philippines (MAP) are used as "recruitment grounds" by the CPP. 

"Celiz presents no proof or evidence of the accusations he makes against me, other than his and his military handlers' belief that because I'm a prominent activist, then I must also be a high ranking leader of the CPP-NPA-NDF," Casiño said on Twitter a few hours after the hearing. 

"Such lies peddled by the NTF-ELCAC and its agents are putting the lives of activists like me and our families in peril. It should stop now," he added. 

Celiz said he was first recruited through what he claimed was a legal front of the CPP — the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) at West Visayas State University. “I was the regional chairman [of the CEGP] — though I know him also to be part of the CPP,” he said, referring to Casiño. 

In response, the former lawmaker acknowledged that he was, in fact, the national president of the CEGP from 1991 to 1994 when Celiz was active in its Iloilo chapter but said this is no way connected him to the CPP. "My God, that was 29 years ago during our student days! I cannot see how on this basis he can drag my name into his web of lies." 

Celiz's exact story has been hard to pin down, riddled with inconsistencies as it is. He originally told radio DZRH that he was recruited in UP Diliman but switched narratives during a press conference at the National Press Club in Manila last Friday. 

A certain "Party list Rep. Jeffrey Celis" also appears in a 2016 list of individuals accused by President Rodrigo Duterte of being drug protectors. Celiz acknowledged the inclusion of his name in the "narco list," but claimed it was due to a government "project is covered by confidentiality and security purpose."

'Maynila sa Kuko ng Agila'?

Celiz on Tuesday also claimed that there was a "a very long tradition of infiltration and recruitment of showbiz personalities" to the communist rebels' cause. 

He also indirectly identified two prominent film directors who he accused of backing the CPP, naming the non-existent movies "Maynila sa Kuko ng Agila" and "Walang Himala." 

Celiz could have meant Lino Brocka's "Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag" or Augusto Buenaventura's "Sa Kuko ng Aguila." Meanwhile, "Himala," not "Walang Himala," is a film by Ishmael Bernal. 

The CAP, in a post on its Facebook page, condemned the allegations hurled against them by Celiz and military officials during the hearing, characterizing them as "baseless, dangerous, and shameful accusations, besmirching our name and the names of our late founders." It also chided Celiz's tagging of Bernal and Brocka, who are the founders of the group. 

CAP noted that it traces its roots to the united protest of artists and media against the Marcos dictatorship in 1983. 

"From then until today, we are an organization of writers, artists and cultural workers committed to the Constitutionally-protected principles of freedom, justice, and democracy," the group said. "We have always stood for freedom of expression and the people’s welfare. Even if it means having to call out and criticize those in power. That is activism, not terrorism." 

Red-tagging as the Philippine version of McCarthyism

"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 of the Celiz and the military's accusations against them. 

The group was referring to a series of investigations and hearings led by US Sen. Joseph McCarthy from 1950-1954 which sought to expose the alleged communist infiltration of various parts of the American government. Many of the accused, including artists and government officials, were blacklisted, lost their employment or in some cases imprisoned. 

McCarthyism has also become synonymous with the the use of unfair allegations and investigations for political gain. 

The National Union of People's Lawyers on Tuesday posted a briefing on red-tagging in the Philippines wherein they cited Associate Justice Marvic Leonen who called red-tagging or "red-baiting" is the Philippine version of McCarthyism. 

"To make it easy for military and paramilitary units to silence or cause untold human rights abuses on vocal dissenters, government agents usually resort to stereotyping or caricaturing individuals," Leonen was quoted by NUPL as saying in his Dissenting Opinion in the case of Zarate, et al. vs. Aquino, et al. 

"This is accomplished by providing witnesses who, under coercive and intimidating conditions, identify the leaders of organizations critical of the administration as masterminds of ordinary criminal acts. Not only does this make these leaders’ lives and liberties vulnerable, a chilling effect on dissent is also generated among similar-minded individuals.”

NUPL further said that the main purpose of red-tagging is to silence dissent and criticism as well as to repress opposition to anti-people policies of the government. 

"With the government’s avowed goal of ending the communist insurgency through a so-called “whole of nation approach” in tandem with draconian measures like the Anti-Terror Law, without however effectively addressing the root causes of such insurgency, the State now turns its forces towards the unarmed civilians and groups who are simply exercising their basic rights and fundamental freedoms in a democratic society," the group said. 

Sen. Ping Lacson, who chairs the Senate defense committee, is principal author at the Senate of the much-feared 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. He called for the probe following a recent slew of accusations hurled against public figures and a women's group by Lt.Gen. Antionio Parlade, spokesman for the NTF-ELCAC. 

BAYAN MUNA CONCERNED ARTISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES MILITARY NTF-ELCAC NUPL
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