Former solon debunks credibility of gov’t witness in Senate hearing

Former Bayan Muna representative and lawyer Neri Colmenares questioned on Tuesday the credibility of self-proclaimed former rebel Jeffrey Celiz who tagged progressive groups and lawmakers as being part of the armed communist movement.

(Photo via Vanne Terrazola / MANILA BULLETIN)

At the resumption of the Senate defense committee's inquiry on the "red-tagging" activities of government defense and military officials on Tuesday, November 24, Colmenares said the military's allegations that congressmen in the Makabayan bloc were members of the CPP were baseless and repetitive, relying only on the testimonies of their witnesses, led by Celiz.

To recall, Celiz identified himself as an officer in the National Operations Command of the New People's Army, the Communist Party of the Philippines' (CPP) armed wing. He has also been listed in President Duterte's drug list in 2016.

During the hearing, Colmenares flagged several inconsistencies in Celiz' statements during the November 3 Senate hearing and his previous pronouncements before the media about his background.

Among others, he said Celiz cannot claim to be a long-time member of the NPA while he was serving in a government post in Iloilo City until 2016. Celiz was involved in some high-profile cases filed before the Ombudsman, they learned.

"Member ka ng NPA, syempre low-profile ka dapat di ba? Pero dito high profile...Bakit ginagawa ni Mr. Celiz ito, eh National Operations Command siya?" he asked.

Colmenares said the witness also cannot insist having direct personal knowledge on the supposed links of the Bayan Muna congressmen to the CPP when he already left the CPP before they were elected in Congress. "Wala siyang patunay na inilabas (He did not show any proof)," he said.

Celiz later admitted that he had no interaction with Colmenares.

Colmenares said Celiz made many other "absurd and untrue" allegations that were not supported by evidence.

Citing the Senate's transcript of the November 3 hearing, he said National Intelligance Coordinating Agency (NICA) chief Alec Monteagudo himself conceded that there were legal "problems" in their acquisition of evidence and the "some of the procedures were not followed".

Monteagudo also admitted that they are still building up cases on their claims.

Colmenares surmised the government's "game plan" is not to file charges against them but to subject them into a trial by publicity, and later designate them as "terrorists" under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which would be "easier".

"Designation is only probable cause. The proscription proceedings in court, because it's administrative proceedings, is merely substantial evidence," said the lawyer.

Echoing suspicions from groups, Colmenares claimed that Celiz was "lying" in his statements in exchange for protection from the government regarding his alleged drug links.

Earlier, Celiz claimed that he was included in the President's narco list as part of another "government project" and that he was working with the NICA to supposedly curb drug syndicates. 

"Ang interpretasyon namin, hindi siya asset. Tingin namin nagsisinungaling siya na asset siya. Talagang na-involve siya sa drug list dahil may basis ang President doon sa pag-involve niya sa drug list. Pagkatapos niyang ma-involve doon, saka lang siya pumunta sa military at nagsabing puwede ba proteksyunan niyo ako sa tokhang pero magte-testify ako kung sino ang gusto ninyong itestify ko," Colmenares said.

(Our interpretation is not he is not an asset. We think he was lying that he was a government asset. He was really involved in the drug list because the President had a basis for his involvement. After that, he went to the military and volunteered to testify against whoever they want in exchange for protection from the Oplan Tokhang.)

"That goes into the motive, Mr. Chair. But that is our interpretation, and it's up to the Senate to interpret that," he added.

Atty. Jobert Pahilga of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers appealed to Senate defense panel to examine the witness' background and not to take his statements hook, line and sinker.