war on drugs

Lawyer questions credibility of Parlade’s ‘star witness’ at Senate probe on red-tagging

Rambo Talabong

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Lawyer questions credibility of Parlade’s ‘star witness’ at Senate probe on red-tagging
Jeffrey Celiz is the former spokesman of ex-Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog. Both of them were named in Duterte's drug list in 2016.

A founding member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) questioned the motive and credibility of self-confessed former New People’s Army rebel Jeffrey Celiz, the government’s “star witness” at the red-tagging probe of the Senate on Tuesday, November 3.

Jobert Pahilga, National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) founding member and executive director of lawyers’ group Sentra, said in a statement that he had known Celiz for decades and he suspected that Celiz passed himself off as a former NPA member with extensive knowledge of the workings of the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA to save himself.

Days ahead of the Senate hearing, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) presented Celiz in a live video on its official Facebook page, where he described himself as a former rebel with nearly 3 decades of “revolutionary experience.”

Celiz made the same claim at the Senate hearing which was attended by Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr of NTF-ELCAC and its other members, including National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

Duterte drug list

After Celiz red-tagged various groups and individuals, including Angel Locsin’s sister Ella Colmenares, Senator Panfilo Lacson asked about Celiz’s inclusion in the infamous drug list of President Rodrigo Duterte released in August 2016.

The 2016 drug list had misidentified Celiz as a party-list representative. At the time, he was the spokesperson of then-Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog who was also included in the list.

Explaining his inclusion in the drug list, Celis told the Senate defense panel chaired by Lacson, “My inclusion to the narco-list was part of a government project and that circumstances emanated from my being an intel operative.” He did not give other details.

Pressed by Lacson, Celiz said he was childhood friends with slain alleged drug lord Melvin “Boyet” Odicta Sr, who was gunned down at a port in Barangay Caticlan, Malay, Aklan.

He said his intelligence work concerned the Odictas, but added that he could not disclose details of his work because it could endanger his family.

Celiz said his handler as a drug intelligence operative was the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) – an unusual claim as the anti-drug campaign was entrusted by Duterte primarily to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Celiz then accused communists of outing him as part of the drug list to prevent him from testifying at the Senate, even if he acknowledged in the same breath that his inclusion in the drug list was of public record and read out loud by Duterte in August 2016.

During the hearing, Celiz also detailed the supposed recruitment strategies of the NPA which had been bared in previous presentations of the military on the same topic – that they use front organizations through the National Democratic Front to invite activists into the armed movement.

He claimed that he was recruited through the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines in a meeting of campus journalists that supposedly ended up being an indoctrination session on communist ideology.

He then claimed, without presenting evidence, that all Left-leaning public officials and prominent figures were members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Who is Jeffrey Celiz?

Pahilga questioned Celiz’s credibility, as well as the claims he had made in public, in a statement titled, “Who is Mr Jeffrey Celiz or ‘Ka Eric’ Almendras and Why the Public Should Not Believe His Wild Claims.” Among Celiz’s other claims is that the NUPL is a communist front, which the group denied.

For one, Pahilga said, “while Celiz was indeed a former activist with Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, he was not part of the NPA, moreso, the national operational command in recent years, as he was already deep into the local government in Iloilo City by the 2010s.”

Pahilga said that after Duterte included Celiz in the drug list, Celiz “disappeared” from public view while his boss, Mayor Mabilog, fled abroad for fear of his safety.

“Now Mr Celiz reappeared suddenly as star witness of Gen. Parlade… Having closely known him for the longest time, my studied opinion is that he is afraid to be a victim of extrajudicial killing under President Duterte’s anti-drug war,” Pahilga said.

He added: “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…. Celiz is lying and is lying through his teeth.”

Rappler has sought the comment of Celiz and the military through Parlade. He has yet to reply as of posting time. – Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.