Two of the government’s main anticommunist propagandists were brought to court on Wednesday on a P2.15-million civil suit by one of their principal targets, Carol Araullo, a veteran activist and chair emeritus of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
Araullo said in a statement that she filed the first such damage suit against Lorraine Badoy Partosa and Jeffrey Celiz, anchors of the program “Laban Kasama ang Bayan” of the SMNI TV network owned by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, “because they have incessantly and wantonly engaged in a vilification spree to demonize me and tar my good name and that of my organization.”
The tandem had identified Araullo in their program as a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) central committee, specifically as an “urban operative” for the insurgents. Araullo said she wanted to “exact accountability for their false, baseless and malicious public statements.
Partosa is a former spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) and an ardent supporter of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs and anti-insurgency campaign.
Celiz, aka “Ka Eric,” claims to be a former member of the “National Operations Command” (NOC) of the New People’s Army (NPA). He served for a time as Bayan chair in Panay.
Araullo said her purpose in filing the case was to “stop this pernicious practice not only against me and other social activists but [also] for many more who they have categorized as ‘enemies of the state’ because of their critical or oppositionist stance … to government policies or programs and crimes and abuses committed by persons in authority.”
She said artists, lawyers, doctors, human rights advocates, trade unionists, teachers, land reform and environment protection advocates and journalists, including her son, documentarist Atom Araullo, were among the “Red-tagging” victims of Partosa and Celiz.
Red-tagging, or identifying persons or groups as part of the communist insurgency, opens individuals to persecution or prosecution and even deadly attacks by state authorities or their agents.
In a comment sent Thursday to CoverStory.ph, Partosa scoffed at the damage suit and challenged Araullo to instead charge her with libel “to put me behind bars with a hefty fee.”
“The mass murders of Filipinos and all the other grievous crimes against us would not have been possible without operatives like Carol Araullo,” Partosa said. “These nuisance cases mean nothing to me.”
Earlier, Araullo told CoverStory that she decided to file a damage suit because of her and other activists’ push to decriminalize libel in order to prevent its being weaponized against legitimate dissent and critical media reporting.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday after Bayan chair Teddy Casino reported on the filing of the damage suit, Partosa said she asked her lawyer what a “civil case” meant. She quoted her lawyer as saying: “You wounded their feelings and they want you to pay. Baka wala ng pera talaga ang CPP (Maybe the CPP really doesn’t have any more money). Fundraising!”
“Then we had a good laugh because ‘This is a useless case. A crybaby case,’” Partosa said.
She said Araullo and other Bayan leaders were afraid “because we speak the truth,” and added: “Prove me wrong, Carol. Sue us for libel. And wait for our counter lawsuit against you communist terrorist operatives. We’ll give you something to lose sleep over.”
The suit against Partosa and Celiz covers the period from July 2021 to this year,
During one program that aired last Jan. 30, Celiz, speaking in Filipino, said they were challenging Araullo to condemn the CPP, NPA and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“And because you defend them and cover up their crimes—killings, arson, bombings, ambuscades and the destruction of our country—and since you could not condemn these, and you even cover these up, we challenge you: Why not join them?” he said, adding that it was a challenge to Bayan and its leaders.
“It happens that you are a leader of Bayan and you are a leader also of the communist party and you have direct knowledge and experience and personal knowledge” about the communist underground, Celiz said.
He said Araullo’s “tasking” from the party’s National United Front Commission was to be an “urban operative” inside Bayan.
Partosa, addressing Araullo, said the challenge was “on par because you said you understand that they are fighting for something.”
“Your work is to provide protection and support to the NPA. You are not NPA, Carol. No one is saying that,” she said.
Celiz had no doubt that Araullo was and still is a senior CPP officer. “I confirm that she is a member of the central committee,” he said. “Why? Because I should know. That is where I came from. I know the organization and I was with members of the central committee who identified you when I was in the NPA national operations command.”
Willful damage and injury
Araullo charged Partosa and Celiz with offenses penalized under the Civil Code of the Philippines for, among others, not observing honesty and good faith with another person, and willfully causing damage and injury “contrary to morals, good customs or public policy.”
She refused to bow to Partosa and Celiz’s demand that she denounce the rebels. “In the first place, I do not want to play into their Red-tagging schemes—that I need to prove my innocence rather than they prove their baseless charges,” she told CoverStory. “But more than that, I must say that I will not denounce the CPP-NPA because I know historically and currently—whether you agree with their methods or not—there are legitimate reasons for why they have taken up arms against the government.”
She said that instead of all-out military suppression of the insurgency that is more than half a century old, its roots should be resolved in a peaceful manner by resuming peace negotiations with the NDFP.
Duterte terminated the peace talks in 2017, alleging that the NPA continued to stage armed attacks against soldiers while negotiations were ongoing. Later, he said he could not give in to the rebel demand for “power sharing,” which was not on the agenda of the talks.
Araullo said the negotiations should not be “about surrender, not about cooptation, but about really addressing the underlying causes of why people take up arms—socioeconomic, political, and even constitutional.”
Now 69, Araullo was one of the most prominent student activists in the 1970s. She was elected vice chair of the University of the Philippines Student Council, along with Jaime Galvez Tan as chair, when their party swept the UP polls in 1972. They were never able to take their seats as then President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. had imposed martial law. Galvez-Tan once served as health secretary.
Araullo was among thousands of political activists, opponents and critics of Marcos who were arrested and imprisoned.
After her release, she continued her studies. She graduated from the UP College of Medicine in 1979 and served as a community doctor. She was a founding member of the Medical Action Group and Health Alliance for Democracy before serving as Bayan chair in 2009.
Best and brightest
In her interview with CoverStory, Araullo lamented the loss of many fellow activists during the Marcos dictatorship and in the years that followed.
“I knew them as youths—the best and brightest of that generation,” she said. “Many of them gave up their lives, and even today, those who have died … impressed me as being very rational. They studied the conditions of the country and are proposing solutions—not cosmetic solutions, but real solutions.”
She expressed surprise at the sudden turnaround particularly of Partosa, who had served as assistant secretary to Social Work Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, also a ‘70s student leader whose confirmation was eventually rejected by the Commission on Appointment.
“I met her personally during the confirmation hearing for Judy Taguiwalo,” Araullo said of Partosa. “She greeted me like we had known each other for a long time. She was very sweet then.”
Lawyer Jobert I. Pahilga, a founding member of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers—another group linked by both Partosa and Celiz to the CPP-NPA-NDFP—raised serious doubts about Celiz’s claim of having been a member of the NPA and its leading body, the NOC.
Celiz had said he was a CPP member from 1988 to 2015 and was part of the NPA NOC from 2002 until March 2015.
“How can he be a member of the NPA in 1994 to 2004 when he was an active student and mass leader of legal activists in Iloilo City?” said Pahilga, Celiz’s high school classmate and fellow activist at the Western Visayas State University.
“He was even the spokesperson and became the chairperson of Bayan Panay from the year 2000 to 2004,” Pahilga wrote in the online newspaper Manila Today on Nov. 3, 2020.
After his years in activism, Celiz took various jobs, including serving as political strategist and later spokesperson for then Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog in 2010-2016.
When Duterte named a certain “Bayan Congressman Celiz” in August 2016 as a “drug personality” in Iloilo City, at about the same time that Mabilog also was tagged as a drug lord, Celiz disappeared, according to Pahilga.
Araullo said Partosa and Celiz labelled her and others as either members or supporters of the rebel movement by mere association.
“It was one plus one equals three to them,” she said, and cited her son Atom, 40, as a victim: “Basically, if you look at all that they are saying against Atom, he is my son and so he must be like this. They say his documentaries that criticize the government are from the CPP-NPA playbook.”
She said “Red-tagging has seeped down” to local communities and police stations. One in Cagayan de Oro City already tagged her as a rebel supporter, she said.
Initially, Araullo said, she did not want to press charges against Partosa and Celiz for their allegations against her.
“Why should I dignify them? If you pay attention and respond on social media, that’s exactly what they want. So, let it die a natural death,” she said. “But they have a platform which is well-funded.”
Her friends and family also said that if she did not file a case, her position would look weak and she would appear guilty, Araullo said.
“If something positive comes out of this, it would help others—those in the communities, the urban poor organizers, the teachers—who are being harassed and have no time, resources and support network to file cases,” she said.
Araullo said she was “acutely aware” that she was “in the crosshairs of the NTF-Elcac,” and that her movements, telephone and social media accounts were being monitored.
She said she had to take certain security measures, once declining to join an out-of-town trip with her siblings then visiting from overseas.
“I am stressed,” she declared. “I am not impervious to these things. Just watching their show stresses me because of the brazenness and the gall to lie just like that. I feel so insulted.”
Araullo has survived a bout with cancer, which is of the kind that “does not go away” but is tamed by chemotherapy.
“Any time I am under stress, it could be triggered. I am also immunocompromised,” she said. “It’s taken a toll. But life goes on. I am not going to let idiots dictate what I am going to do.”