Growing up into a normal and religious family, arrested NDFP consultant Eric Jun Casilao wanted to be a priest in his younger years.
By SINAG JOAQUIN
“He could’ve been a priest,” former Anakpawis Representative Ariel ‘Ayik’ Casilao had this to say about his older brother, Eric Jun Casilao a day after the latter was announced to have been arrested in Malaysia and deported to the Philippines on April 17.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Ayik shared this interesting bit of information about Eric that is not much known to the public. He shared that Eric was in his second year as a Theology student at the Ateneo de Davao University when he was nominated as the second nominee of the neophyte partylist group Anak ng Bayan (now Kabataan Partylist) back in 2004.
“He was a born leader,” Ayik proudly said about his brother who served as student government chairperson when he was in high school at the Assumption College of Davao (previously Assumption School of Davao) where he graduated salutatorian. “We grew up close to the Assumption sisters,” he said, and also shared that their mother used to serve in church.
It was in school where Eric developed his preferential option for the poor as he was exposed to the experiences of the marginalized when he joined immersion programs in Lumad communities, Ayik said. Born on February 19, 1978, Eric grew up in Davao City, Ayik added.
Eric was a respected student leader in Davao until he had to leave to take on bigger responsibilities on a national scale when he campaigned for partylist representation in 2004, Ayik said. After the long campaign trail and a heartbreaking loss in the 2004 elections, Ayik said Eric went back to his homeland in Davao City but could not roam around freely as he became a target of harassment. In fact, Ayik said Eric survived an assasination attempt as early as 2006.
“He had to side-step because he already found it hard to openly participate in the framework of a parliamentary system. He was given very limited democratic space which forced him to seek sanctuary with the revolutionary forces in the same year,” Ayik admitted.
Ayik said his brother served in indigenous peoples’ communities and fostered literacy and numeracy programs for the Lumad. It was also here that he met his wife who was also a volunteer during that time.
But before Eric got married, Ayik said his brother became a witness to atrocities and human rights violations in Mindanao. In fact, his former fiancee, Benjaline Hernandez, was massacred together with three others in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato while documenting human rights violations committed by the military in the area. A student journalist and a human rights defender, Hernandez served as both vice president for Mindanao of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and deputy secretary-general of Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region when she was killed.
Benjaline’s untimely death in the hands of the military brought Eric closer to her mother, Evangeline Hernandez. In a separate interview with Bulatlat, Evan, as she is known, described Eric as “a good son and a good comrade.” Evan said Eric was also very shy and was not fond of having his photos taken.
“He (Eric) helped our family get through the rough times after my daughter’s killing,” Evan recalled, adding that her younger children looked up to him as their elder brother even when they had lost contact with him for a long time. Evan said it has been more than 20 years since she last saw Eric but believes he looked the same when she saw him on the news last Monday, “except that his hair has gone blonde,” she said laughing.
Evan has only good words and high respect for Eric. “He is a respectable man in Davao. I would stand by Eric and support him in his causes and advocacies,” she ended.
In a statement by Eric’s counsels posted on Facebook on April 17, they said Eric was arrested in Langkawi, Malaysia on April 1 and was deported to the Philippines on April 17. Eric is now detained at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Davao City.
Meanwhile, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines condemned the arrest and detention of Eric in a statement posted on April 18. The NDFP statement said Eric is its consultant for the Reciprocal Working Committee on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio Economic Reforms in Southern Mindanao.
Further, the NDFP Negotiating Panel demands that Eric’s ‘life, security and safety are guaranteed and 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).
Eric is facing non-bailable cases such as murder, attempted murder, and kidnapping and serious illegal detention, the Philippine National Police said in a press conference on the same day that Eric was deported. The police said he had a 5.4 million peso bounty for his arrest.
In a recorded message forwarded by his lawyers, Eric thanked all those who have supported him. “Despite the difficult situation, your support gives me strength to go on,” he said in Filipino.
Eric told his family not to worry so much about him. “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.” (RVO)