Jeffrey Celiz: Getting to know government’s finger-pointing ‘cadre’
ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — A former Iloilo activist, who claimed to have been a ranking officer of the New People’s Army (NPA) and who also openly accused progressive organizations and party-list groups of being “fronts” for communist rebels, is as controversial as his allegations.
But many of the claims made by Jeffrey Celiz, 49, during a Senate inquiry on Tuesday raised questions as these contradicted information of public knowledge, especially among Ilonggos, and even his own statements.
Questions regarding his inclusion in the list of drug personalities disclosed by President Rodrigo Duterte in August 2016, also hound Celiz.
In his testimony before the Senate committee on national defense and security, Celiz said legal organizations, such as the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and other groups were recruitment grounds for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the NPA.
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) presented Celiz to back up allegations among others that activist Angela Colmenares, sister of actress Angel Locsin, was an NPA rebel. Locsin has denied the accusations.
Celiz, who identified himself in radio interviews as “Ka Erick Almendras,” claimed that he was with the communist underground for 27 years, from 1988 to 2015.
He said he was one of its “cadres” and a member of the “national operations command” of the NPA until 2015.
But in other interviews, he said he was with the underground for more than 18 years until 2008, including his time with NPA. He said he started to take part of the government’s “peace and security efforts” in 2009.
Celiz was the face of the progressive movement in Iloilo when he was chair of the Bayan in Panay from 2000 to 2004. Then he disappeared from public view.
In an interview with the Inquirer in 2011, he said he went underground in 2003 for fear of his life after he was allegedly harassed by suspected military and police agents.
He met with the late former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, a fellow Ilonggo, in 2007 to check if he had an arrest warrant or pending case and requested for police and National Bureau of Investigation clearances.
Celiz also said he taught English in a Korean school in Tagaytay City for 10 months starting February 2008 before returning to Iloilo City in December that year.
In March 2009, Celiz said he started working as a casual employee at the Iloilo City Hall and as political liaison officer of Mayor Jerry Treñas.
Treñas on Wednesday denied that Celiz was his political liaison officer but confirmed that he was hired as a casual employee of the city.After the May 2010 elections, Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog appointed Celiz his political liason officer and later his spokesperson.
But due to his often virulent verbal attacks against critics and political rivals of Mabilog, Celiz was stripped of his role as the mayor’s mouthpiece but continued to serve as Mabilog’s executive assistant until February 2016.
On Aug. 7, 2016, Mr. Duterte said Mabilog was among the local chief executives involved in illegal drugs, along with Celiz and three former Iloilo City police chiefs.
Celiz’s inclusion in the President’s drug list fueled allegations that he had links with alleged Western Visayas druglord Melvin Odicta. Celiz repeatedly denied this, saying that critics of Mabilog were spreading false information.
Odicta and his wife Merriam were gunned down on Aug. 29, 2016, after they disembarked from a ferry at the Caticlan port at Malay town in Aklan province.
Mabilog, who also denied the President’s allegations, fled the country in September 2017 followed by his family.
Celiz then disappeared from public view and surfaced last week as the “star witness” of the NTF-Elcac.Asked why he turned into a government witness despite his inclusion in the President’s drug list, Celiz said that he was part of a confidential “government project” against illegal drugs but could not reveal details.
Former Iloilo City councilor Plaridel Nava, a vocal critic of Mabilog and illegal drugs, doubts Celiz’s claims.
“I have known Celiz for years. He is gifted in drawing untruthful stories to discredit either his own or his handlers’ enemies,” Nava said in a Facebook post.
Nava said Celiz may have agreed to be a government asset for personal survival.
“I am no longer surprised of his involvement in the government’s ‘Red-tagging’. He has become a loose cannon and a deserter after he was tagged by Duterte as part of the narcolists. He will do everything to survive,” Nava said.