Sunday, April 10, 2011

Free Ericson Acosta!*

by Sarah Raymundo

Once we thought we would never get old. Confirming that we did through his son’s refusal of our favorite soda because the child knew about carcinogens, we could only heave a sigh. The child even told us that he can only have one of the many donuts we bought because it is against the doctor’s advice. His child was behaving like some retired senior citizen whose reaction to our giddy adult talk consists in flashing a patronizing smile while shaking his head as if to say he gets the drift but...

I have this tendency to liken children to heavy freight disposed to spoilage. That’s why when I am unexpectedly made to look exactly this way by children themselves, I cannot help but hold their parents accountable. He, the father, wouldn’t mind remonstrations of this kind. For back in college, we would spend our afternoons going from one organization to another and ask their members to join us someday if not now. We never ran out of soundtracks to sing depending on either our collective mood or the issue at hand. Most of the time it was AOM* Audrey Hepburn-style. He would insist that his attire far outweighs mine in terms of the Hepburn impact, whatever that was. So I would make up for my limitation by singing Moon River while squeezing out the saddest expression my eyes could pull off.

We would be at each other's throats arguing over the day’s theme. It was suddenly OPM** when I had prepared for ABBA’s Fernando. In one of those OPM days, he sang and reworded Jaya’s “Kung kaya’t ikaw ang aking inibig, yan ang pusang ginawang siopao at giniling.” I didn’t mind that I was eating siopao. Yet my irrational fear of cats triggered an upset stomach which I didn’t bother to tell him about as I was also too invested in singing the whole song with the grossest, scariest lyrics that elicit images of cats both dead and alive. Right now, I don’t get why we enjoyed his “Breakfast ko, puro sago, it’s alright, STAND-UP,*** alright!” (to the tune of Let's Groove) that we went as far as performing it in selected organizations.

Long before our cheerful alliance work, I’ve already thought highly of him for being a serious activist. It was the 90s and all that loose talk about the impossibility of Truth or its non-existence except in totalitarian formations reigned supreme. I was whiling time away at the CNS**** tambayan when he sat next to me and asked why I did not show up to an ED***** held over the break. I did not hesitate to tell him about my reservations which by no means translated to more concrete objections. At the time, it was difficult to talk about things that count for ideological struggles because consolidation never comes right after the act of breaking ranks. The “Split” in the student movement, at least in my limited understanding back then meant the primacy of consolidation over whatsoever kind of drama there was.

Yet still I told him about the inconvenience of theoretical struggle. It’s hard when you know that to struggle is just while almost all of your professors talk about its obsolescence. I told him in the same level of comfort that I would consult him about the hairstyle that would best suit the shape of my face, in the same frivolous mode of analyzing why this person is more attractive than another, in the same silly manner of explaining what’s wrong with a person’s fashion sense. For fashion for us sometimes did feel like grammar : “Ay tingnan mo yun o, mukhang wrong grammar ‘noh?”

And he warned me against people who say that there is no truth. From where do they speak if not from truth’s concealed power to denounce, to defy, to dissent? What was at stake then and now for both us and them are words that signal movement: sway, pull, bend, wave, rock and win over. It would be foolish to imagine that the problem of truth is a problematique for metaphysics or ontology. At the end of the day, the problem of truth is a problem I need to resolve with or sometimes against people like him who would always weigh heavier than all of my reservations and quaint aspirations. Truth is ours. And it is to be spoken with the greatest daring and strength.

In one of the greatest moments in contemporary Philippine History, the Filipino people succeeded in driving out the U.S. Military Bases. It was 1991 and despite former President Corazon Aquino’s will to serve America, the people held sway. On the day that the Senate voted on the issue, people from different sectors trooped the office to demand freedom from US Imperialism. Once the vote was casted and word gradually was out, my friend ran from his insider source to the UP contingent to announce the good news. “Panalo na, kantahin na yung UP Naming Mahal! .” And so they did with their arms thrown away in the air but fiercely clenched.

A few years ago, his wife told me about how their child asked the question “Nanay, ano ba yung mahirap?” We let out a thunderous laughter, amused as we were at how the child approached the idea with such innocence and remoteness. “Know thyself!” was my joke answer. But the child was probably looking for so much more than indicators. He has probably been told by some elders about it and may have referred to the condition as the reason why his parents need to sometimes travel away from home to teach both children and adults basic literacy and a few good songs. Otherwise the latter’s knowledge will be limited to just poverty.

Last year, when we celebrated his son’s birthday, he bragged about his child’s mastery of the game Scrabble. But he only talks big when there’s a punch line. At first the child demonstrated reluctance in laying down the letters that formed the word sex and immediately expressed his dismay with his lettered tiles. I like it that he did not apologize. And then it was his turn once more. Scoring big points on the game board with just one letter tile is always a smart move and merely adding the letter Y to what he already laid down earlier was such. The father and I were grinning as we turned our gaze to Little Mr.Scrabble: Oh dear, what can we tell you?

The child will turn a year older next month. I look forward to his birthday each year as some godparents would when they care. I like coming to his parties because for the past years, they functioned as venues for us adults to catch up with each other’s lives. Those who are absent will not be spared from the little and innocuous pleasures we derive from critiquing life stories. I worry though that his father might take a longer time in prison to make it to his child’s birthday treat. Yesterday, the news shocked me with a report on Ericson L. Acosta’s capture in Samar.

Now that is someone so dear, I thought. I thought that fascistic acts like filing criminal cases against activists and stealing away their freedom or life were part of the dirty game that the past regime loved to play. Eric has been charged before RTC Branch 41, Gandara under criminal case # 11-0501 and is detained at the Gandara Municipal Office. My buddy is too far away. If I know him well, he probably is thinking of getting a spunky haircut for when he gets to be released and thrown back at us. He probably is missing his home library containing all of the good books he has kept and read all these years. He probably is conducting a birthday countdown for his boy. Does he have a notebook and pen? Do they give him something to read? Does he have a guitar with him? If not then can somebody lend him one while he’s locked up so that he can joke play it as he sings?

Free Ericson Acosta!

*"We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Ericson Acosta, former Collegian Editor, former chair of Alay Sining, former chair of STAND-UP, poet and activist for the people. Initial reports say he is now detained in Western Samar after being arrested last February 13. Human rights groups are now working to see him. His safety must be assured and his rights should be respected."

**AOM- Arouse, Mobilize, Organize

***OPM- Original Pilipino Music

****STAND-UP- Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in the University of the Philippines.

*****CNS - Center for Nationalist Studies

******ED- Educational Discussion

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