Arrested CPP leader in Davao not ‘a terrorist’, groups and family say

Apr. 22, 2023
Photo from 10th Infantry Division’s Facebook page

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – On April 17 in Manila, a man in a green jacket with brown-dyed hair stepped out of the Manila Airport in handcuffs, escorted by armed police personnel. 

Authorities announced on that day that the man is Eric Jun Casilao, alleged leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in Southern Mindanao, who was apprehended last April 1 in the seaport in Langkawi, Malaysia onboard a ferry reportedly heading to Koh Lipe, Thailand after being put on Red Notice for falsifying a passport to travel. He was deported back on April 17.

Two press conferences were held by military and police officials that day, one in Manila and the other in Davao City, but did not present Casilao to the media. Both presscons made the same declaration that this operation is a blow to the communist movement that has been ongoing for 50 years. 

The Philippine National Police said Casilao has a 5.4 million peso bounty and faces non-bailable cases of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and serious illegal detention filed in the court of Nabunturan, Davao de Oro.

While authorities hailed the arrest of Casilao and labeled him as a “communist terrorist,” his lawyers and family decry this tagging.

Casilao’s lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, appealed to the police and the government to “let the process take its course and not to be subjected to trial by public opinion. Tagging him as a terrorist makes him an open target for extrajudicial killing, assassination, and enforced disappearance.”

“He is still not convicted (of the charges against him), it needs to be proven in court at a proper hearing. We still have to present evidence in defense of our client,” his lawyer added.

A history of harassments

His brother, former Anakpawis Party-list Representative Ariel Casilao, refuted the military claims that Eric has committed criminal acts of murder including comrades.

“Many of his batchmates in high school and college, teachers, and friends describe Eric (as) very opposite from what the PNP and AFP are branding him. He is and his actions are far from being allegedly a notorious terrorist personality. Buotan, mahinabangon si Eric (Eric is kind and helpful).”

He said his brother Eric is a student leader in his high school days at Assumption College of Davao and graduated as class valedictorian. During college at Ateneo de Davao University, he participated in student council elections.

Eric was selected as the second nominee of Anak ng Bayan Party-list which failed to get a seat in 2004. After the elections, Eric, Ariel, and other activists were harassed by military agents.

“During that time (under President Arroyo), we were swamped with cases, remember the eight mass leaders of Davao City including Alvin Luque. In Eric’s case, (my) assumption is that his (security) is untenable.” 

Luque was secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Davao and a former teacher at Assumption High School. He also joined the National Democratic Front after a warrant of arrest was issued on him on trumped-up charges. He was murdered on December 10, 2020, in a joint military-police raid while recuperating from an illness in a safe house in Surigao del Sur. Read Luque’s obituary here.

Neither Ariel nor authorities have given details on why Eric was in Malaysia. Ariel, in an interview with ANC, said he has not communicated with his brother for a decade, but he presumes he must have sought asylum for continuing harassment of him.

Ariel added that he was not allowed by police to approach and talk to his brother when he arrived at the Manila International Airport from Malaysia.

Protected by Jasig

The National Democratic Front (NDFP), which engages in peace negotiations with the government, said in a statement that Casilao is a peace consultant and is covered by joint agreements to be protected from arrest and harm.

NDFP Negotiating Panel Interim chairperson Julieta de Lima said Casilao is a consultant for the Reciprocal Working Committee on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) in Southern Mindanao.

“The Negotiating Panel demands that his (Casilao’s) life, security, and safety are guaranteed also in compliance with the binding mandates of the GRP-NDFP Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),” de Lima said.

She expressed concern that several peace consultants have been murdered and arrested under similar charges of murder, kidnapping, arson, and illegal possession of firearms after the talks were terminated in 2017.

The peace talks between the NDF and the government at that time was near completion for the draft on CASER, which sought economic reforms to alleviate poverty among farmers, urban poor, and workers. 

Seeking solutions

Ariel said Eric’s role in CASER showed his brother is bent on seeking solutions to the roots of armed conflict, contrary to the military spin.

“Peace based on justice, that is my brother’s mission. That is why he is part of the Reciprocal Working Committee of the NDFP, to help in drafting the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms,” said Ariel.

Among the priority programs outlined in CASER are the implementation of genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization, Ariel said.

But with his brother’s arrest, and the authorities declaration that the revolution is diminished, Ariel said “Tila galit sa hustisya’t kapayapaan ang rehimeng ito.” (It seems this regime is angry at those who want peace and justice.)

Those who have seen the transformation of Casilao, including a nun interviewed by Davao Today, have only respect for the choices he made.

“I don’t see him as notorious. He has a heart for the poor and is consistent in principle. Even if he chose to become part of the CPP/NPA. It does not change how I see him. Every person has options that we should respect, for example, if a person chooses to become an NPA, a military, or a nun, we should respect that,” she said.

In a report by Bulatlat, Eric had already talked with lawyers, and in a recorded message, thanked friends and former colleagues who have supported him and followed up when he was held incommunicado after his detention in Malaysia.

“Despite the difficult situation, your support gives me strength to go on,” he said in Filipino.

Eric’s message to his family is: “Do not burden yourself with worry. I am taking care of myself…To my children, know that you are always in my thoughts. As long as I am alive, there is hope that we can be reunited once again.”

Ariel said he appeals the government would assure his brother will not be harmed and pursue the legal case. “He is not a terrorist,” he said. (

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