By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO in Bulatlat.com
MANILA – Amnesty International has called for the immediate release of poet and writer Ericson Acosta.
In a statement posted on its website www.amnesty.org, Amnesty International said the Aquino government should either end Acosta’s detention without trial and release him or else promptly bring him to trial.
Amnesty International expressed concern that the 37-year-old activist and journalist has been held in detention without trial for the last six months and still counting. Acosta was arrested by the military in San Jose, Samar last February 13 and accused without basis or proof of being a ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). In his affidavit submitted to the Regional Trial Court Branch 41 in Gandara, Western Samar court, Acosta said he was detained at a military camp and subjected to 44 hours of interrogation with only two hours of sleep. He also said his military interrogators threatened to kill him.
“Death threats and prolonged sleep deprivation for the purpose of interrogation violate the international prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment. These practices violate the Convention against Torture, which the Philippines has ratified,” said the international human rights agency.
On February 16, the charge of illegal possession of explosives was filed against Acosta at the Gandara RTC which is a non- bailable offense under Philippine law. Six months later, Acosta remains in custody pending action by the investigating prosecutor.
“Under article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is party, anyone subject to arrest or detention is ‘entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.’ In Philippine law, the time limit from an arraignment to trial is set at 180 days by the Speedy Trial Act (RA 8493). However, 180 days have already passed without Acosta being arraigned, since the prosecutor has yet to file a formal complaint to the court. Under international human rights law, confessions obtained by torture or other ill-treatment are inadmissible in court. The Philippine authorities must investigate these allegations and hold the perpetrators accountable,” said Amnesty International.
Art Commission speaks out against culture of impunity
Acosta’s plight has not escaped the attention of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). In letter dated July 22, NCCA executive director and playwright Malou Jacob released a letter addressed to the detained poet.
“As you mark your 159th day in prison today, away from your family and friends, our thoughts and the empathy of civil society will be with you. The injustice of your continuing detention mirrors the injustice that the more powerful has inflicted on our society and our people for so many years.
All these times, you have never reneged on your promise nor wavered in your will to create works expressive of our present difficult but hopeful lives and meaningful to our people,” she said.
Jacob said Acosta’s supporters laud his choice to stand firm at enormous personal cost for the principles of liberty and justice. She also made note of Acosta’s “instrumental role in the re-establishment of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP)” and his “huge concern for the peasant sector and the oppressed.”
Jacob assured Acosta that the NCCA will maintain a close interest in the fight of the more than 300 political prisoners in various detention facilities all over the Philippines. She said the NCCA joins the CAP and other non-government organizations in the fight to end the culture of impunity.
Free all political prisoners
Acosta’s case and the campaign for his release continues to be widely supported by various artist formations like Artist Arrest, Southern Tagalog Exposure and Guerilla Productions as well as by human rights groups all over the country. It has also gained support internationally.
In the United States, Filipino-Americans last July 26 held protests in front of embassies and consular offices as President Aquino delivered his second state of the nation address, (SONA). The Fil-Am activists called on Aquino to release Acosta and all political detainees.
In a rally in front of the Philippine Consulate General office in Los Angeles, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-USA said Aquino has already failed all the promises he issued during the May 2010 presidential campaign.
Kuusela Hilo, Bayan-USA vice chairwoman said Filipinos cannot afford to suffer one more year under Aquino. In the meantime, another activist, Apollo Victoria, sad he had visited Acosta in jail and his continuing detention without charges constitutes a grave human rights violation.
“Aquino wants to talk about human rights but cases like Ericson’s slip through the cracks, and he doesn’t do anything about it,” he was quoted as saying in a report.
In Holland last July, the Rice and Rights Campaign for Human Rights sponsored a dinner for for the release of political prisoners in the Philippines. Some of Acosta’s songs were performed during the activity. International League of Peoples’ Struggle chairman Professor Jose Maria Sison recited his poem “In the Dark Depths.” Sison wrote the poem in the course of his eight of years of imprisonment.
Also in July, more than 400 activists from 43 countries have expressed support for the campaign to free all political detainees by signing and approving a resolution in the recently-concluded Fourth Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) held in San Mateo, Rizal from July 7 to 9.
The resolution Aquino to grant a general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty for all political prisoners.
In the first International Conference of Progressive Culture and the Agit-Prop International Film Festival held the first week of July, filmmakers also signed a resolution supporting Acosta. Among the signatories are filmmakers Mustafa Kilinc from Germany, Iara Lee from Brazil and Eric Tandoc from the US; Mexican songwriter Rosa Martha Zarate Macias of the Solidarity Bracero Project; Palestinian songwriter Tareq Abu Kwaik; members of the Odaya Women’s Drum Group in Canada; Playback Theater and Theater of the Oppressed from Taiwan; and Habi Arts and Trust Your Struggle from USA.
Members of local cultural groups Kaboronyogan Cultural Network from the Bicol Region and Kuntaw Mindanao and Tugtugang Bayan from the Southern Mindanao Region also signed the statement calling for Acosta’s immediate release.
Keeping busy in prison
Acosta has kept himself busy writing supporters and thanking them for all their work pressing for his immediate release. He participated in a five-day fast last July along with 300 other political detainees in the country and the 20 other detainees from Eastern Visayas such as NDFP peace consultant Eduardo Sarmiento who’s detained in Camp Crame ;Jaime Soledad in the Leyte Provincial Jail; peasant leader Dario Tomada in the Manila City Jail; and Paterno Opo and Felicidad Caparal, two farmers in Catbalogan.
Acosta’s supporters maintain the blog freeacosta.blogspot.com which is constantly updated. Various friends and former colleagues of the detained post contribute poems, essays and other write-ups calling for Acosta’s release and an end to human rights violations in the Philippines.
Poet Homer Novicio, on Acosta’s fifth month, visited the political prisoner and said even in a cell shared with12 other inmates, “Eric’s mind is as active as ever if only to fight buryong or boredom aggravated literally by a small space to breathe.”
“Utilizing the mind as sole entertainment mechanism, he organized educational discussions among ka-kosas (fellow inmates). One day, they will be tackling whether Pres. Ferdinand Marcos’ remains should be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani and the next, they’d talk about the destruction of the environment,” Novicio said.
Novicio said Acosta at first ran the risk of being looted by his fellow prisoners, but the need to kill boredom and mental atrophy pushed Acosta to read to the other inmates.
“To his amazement, the kosas were responding as if the words were becoming flesh and blood. Eric began experimenting with vocal styles and enunciation. Thus, Liam Neeson, Jude Law and Samuel L. Jackson became usual ‘voice-over’ visitors,” he said.
Novicio also said Acosta’s efforts to continue writing in prison proves “a mind made keener by his limitations.”
“The poet in him is still very much alive with his poems seething with passion and love for the common man,” he said.
Ericson Acosta unplugged
Acosta’s musician friends have also released a CD album titled “Ericson Acosta: Prison Sessions Unplugged, Unrehearsed…Under Detention” and Acosta joked that the ideas and messages in songs in the album must be the reason why he was imprisoned. The album contains songs Acosta himself wrote during his student days in the University of the Philippines. Accompanied by co-member of the student cultural group Alay Sining and BAYAN secretary-general Renato Reyes, Acosta performs songs that highlight various issues affecting the Filipino people, the struggle of activists for genuine change, and the necessity of artists to choose sides, preferably that of the poor and exploited.
Various concerts have also been mounted to gather funds for Acosta’s legal defense. The last two were on July 13, and July 26. The first was the Haranang Bayan 3 event in Quezon City sponsored by Karatula and the Philippine Collegian. Acosta himself is a former editor of the Collegian’s culture section.
The last concert was sponsored by Guerilla Music Production.
The peace talks and the call for release political detainees
NDFP-EV spokesperson Fr. Francisco Salas said 8th Infantry Division chief Gen. Mario Chan has been making hostile statements against the immediate release of the detained cultural worker. The 8th ID is currently based in Samar.
“The release of some 400 political prisoners in the country is being worked on in the peace talks between the Aquino government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” said Fr. Salas said.
“Such a step is a matter of justice in recognition that these political prisoners are victims of false charges and political persecution. Gen. Chan’s hostility to the release of Ericson Acosta is fascist and anti-peace. His call for the continued Acosta’s unjust imprisonment serves to undermine the peace talks.”
Salas pointed out that the the Aquino government is obliged to release the political prisoners to honor the standing peace agreements with the NDFP and to move the peace talks forward.“Ericson Acosta and other political prisoners were illegally arrested, planted with evidence, tortured, and made to languish in prison on trumped-up charges. It’s a just legitimate to demand the release of all political prisoners because this is in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, and other standing peace agreement between the Philippine government and the NDFP. The burden is on the Aquino government to comply with such a just and legitimate demand. Otherwise, the peace talks will become a laughingstock because the fascists and militarists like Gen. Chan are making a mockery of it.”