AFP: Arrest of Eric Casilao guarantees collapse of insurgency in Davao region

AFP: Arrest of Eric Casilao guarantees collapse of insurgency in Davao region
Undated file photo shows Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel.
The STAR / KJ Rosales, file

MANILA, Philippines — The arrest of Eric Jun Casilao, whom the military has accused of being a leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines, "seals the collapse" of the communist insurgency in the Davao region, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Tuesday.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which represents the CPP and New People's Army at peace talks that the government cancelled in 2017, meanwhile rejected the assertion, saying Casilao is a peace consultant. Although NDFP consultants are protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), the government has routinely ignored the classification.

Casilao, who was arrested in Malaysia, was deported to the Philippines on Monday. According to police and immigration authorities, he had left the Philippines under a false name.

In a statement on Tuesday, the AFP called Casilao a top leader of the communist party's Southern Mindanao Regional Committee and a member of the Central Committee. The military said that Casilao "by his position, was behind all the atrocities and crimes committed by the [New People's Army] in Davao Region."

It also claimed that Casilao fled to Malaysia because the communist insurgency in the region was crumbling.

"We thank the Malaysian authorities for their assistance in making this happen and in helping our government in its efforts to put an end to the violence perpetrated by the CPP/NPA/NDF in the country," it also said.

"His arrest seals the collapse of the communist insurgency in Davao Region."

NDFP: Casilao a consultant

In the NDFP statement, interim negotiating panel Julieta de Lima stressed that authorities should not refer to Casilao as a terrorist.

Under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, organizations and persons may be designated terrorist by the Anti-Terror Council (ATC) or proscribed as such by the Court of Appeals. Casilao is not among the people that the council designated as terrorist in its previous resolutions.

"This is totally unacceptable and is not only in violation of basic human rights and international humanitarian law but is shamelessly inhuman," De Lima said. "Only real terrorists parade their captives in public for humiliation and ignominy that is a throwback to the dark ages of uncivil conduct."

De Lima reiterated that Casilao has the right to the presumption of innocence and to due process, as well as "the right to legal counsel and other basic civil rights that should be observed by civilized systems."

Groups have also raised the lack of due process in the ATC's designation proceedings.

De Lima also reiterated that Casilao is an NDFP consultant for the Reciprocal Working Committee on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio Economic Reforms in Southern Mindanao. 

"In 2004, he decided to seek sanctuary with the masses when he was constantly harassed after being designated the second nominee of Anak ng Bayan party-list," she continued.

Casilao was arrested in Malaysia and was flown to Manila and then to Davao de Oro to face cases "ranging from murder, to serious illegal detention and kidnapping," Police Maj. Gen. Benjamin Acorda Jr., director of intelligence of the Philippine National Police, told reporters at a streamed press conference Monday.

'Not a terrorist'

Casilao's brother, former Rep. Ariel "Ayik" Casilao (Anakpawis party-list) has also rejected the terrorist tag, saying Eric Jun "is far different from [how] the AFP and PNP is describing him."

In a separate statement, farmers' group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said it knows "Casilao as a staunch peasant and indigenous peoples advocate."

The group stressed that Casilao "is not a terrorist [and] has worked alongside peasant and IP organizations in Mindanao in opposing large-scale destructive mining operations, expansion of plantations and perennial landlessness."

In a separate statement, Casilao's counsel, led by lawyer Jobert Pahilga, also rejected the terrorist tag.

"We stand by our client. He is not a terrorist. He has the right to the presumption of innocence. He was not yet found guilty of the crimes imputed to him. Whatever maybe are the charges filed against him should still be proven first in court after trial, and after giving him the opportunity to be heard. Due process of law must be observed at all times."

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