Philippine officials: Wanted communist rebel leader arrested, deported from Malaysia

Jeoffrey Maitem and Froilan Gallardo
Davao and Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
Philippine officials: Wanted communist rebel leader arrested, deported from Malaysia Protesters rally to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, in Manila, March 21, 2018.
Aaron Favila/AP Photo, File

A suspected high-ranking insurgent and member of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines was sent back to the country on Monday after Malaysian authorities arrested him in early April, Filipino officials said.

The suspect, Eric Jun Casilao, is believed to be the secretary of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC) of the CPP in Davao de Oro, a province in the southern Philippines, according to sources with the police and military intelligence.

He escaped during a gunbattle last year and managed to elude authorities until intelligence operatives tracked him down in the neighboring Southeast Asian country, the sources said. One of Casilao’s communist comrades, Menandro Villanueva (also known as Bok), a member of the CPP’s politburo who was also a senior commander of its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), was killed in that January 2022 clash in Mabini, a town in Davao de Oro.

Casilao’s arrest was only made public upon his return to the Philippines on Monday.

He was flown to Manila under a heavy escort en route to the southern city of Davao, according to police and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The NTF-ELCAC is primarily a military-led agency set up in 2018 supposedly to convince communist insurgents to leave the movement and instead help address poverty.

“His arrest in Malaysia, beyond doubt, proves that no criminal or terrorist can escape the long arms of our sovereign laws,” Ernesto Torres Jr., the task force’s executive director, said in a statement. “Mr. Casilao will now have his day in court and will be accorded due process based on our democratic justice system that he and his cohorts long wished to destroy.”

Casilao, who had a bounty of 5.4 million Philippine pesos (U.S. $96,500) on his head, faces at least two counts of murder, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, the police said.

Casilao has been accused of killing a fellow guerrilla, who could no longer keep up as they were fleeing troops, the military last year said, citing information from an informant. The victim, identified as Crispin Rollon, was choked to death and buried in a mountainous village near the town of New Bataan in the south. His body was recovered last year.

CPP-NPA spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Acorda, chief of the national police’s Directorate for Intelligence, said Malaysian authorities had flagged Casilao at the Langkawi immigration counter while he was on his way to Thailand via a ferry boat on April 1.

Casilao was detained for violating Malaysian immigration laws until he was sent back to Manila to face charges, Acorda said.

An immigration official in Malaysia, who could not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, confirmed Casilao’s arrest and deportation, saying he was detained upon a request from Philippine authorities.

In Manila, the alleged rebel leader’s brother, Ariel Casilao, who is a former Philippine congressman, confirmed the arrest.

“I now fear for his life and safety, while he is in the custody of Philippine officials as they have refused to give his legal representatives relevant information regarding his current status,” Ariel Casilao said in a statement.

“I believe that Eric has the right to have access to his lawyers, at every stage of his being in the custody of authorities, and especially in the duration of his deportation and travel from Malaysia to the Philippines, I am very worried for his safety,” he said.

The NPA insurgency, which dates back to 1969, today is estimated to number a little more than 2,000 fighters nationwide, down from its peak of at least 20,000 at its peak in the 80s. In 2020, the Philippine government officially placed the CPP and the NPA on its list of terrorist organizations.

The United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have long designated the CPP-NPA as a foreign terrorist organization. The Philippine military said that the rebel movement was in its last throes after CPP founder Jose Maria Sison died in December last year while in exile in the Netherlands.

Nisha David contributed to this report from Kuala Lumpur.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.