Monday, May 16, 2011

Philippines: Political Prisoner Writes Online Prison Diary

by Karlo Mikhail Mongaya in Global Voices

A Filipino artist, journalist and activist who is being detained by Philippine authorities has created a blog to document his prison experience and reflections. His family, friends, fellow artists and writers, and supporters from civil society have also been using the net to campaign for his freedom.

Ericson Acosta was about to ride a motorized boat heading for the rural town of San Jorge in the eastern Philippine island of Samar on February 13, 2011 when he was arrested by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Amusingly, Acosta’s captors took issue with his bringing a laptop while travelling in the countryside. Their accusation that he was a ranking leader of the underground communist movement, however, is no laughing matter.

The number of victims of extrajudicial killings in the region reached 126 while 27 became desaparecidos (disappeared persons) in the region under the previous administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Acosta was writing a Human Rights situationer on the region at the time of his capture.

The military subjected Acosta to tactical interrogation and charged him of illegal possession of explosives. Civil society groups, writers, artists, his family and friends have decried these allegations as trumped-up and called for his unconditional and immediate release.

Acosta remains detained at the Calbayog City sub-provincial jail, also in Samar. According to the human rights alliance KARAPATAN, Acosta is one more addition to the 353 political prisoners languishing in Philippine prisons as of December 30, 2010.

Campaigns calling for the release of all political prisoners in the country have been a regular feature of the political scene since the times of the Marcos dictatorship. The ruling party has long made it a practice to harass, intimidate, and even kill government critics and social activists working for more equitable distribution of wealth and the empowerment of the poor.

One of the new things about the campaign for the freedom of Ericson Acosta is the extensive and creative use of online tools in the advocacy. Unlike Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who would have to wait for almost three decades until his Prison Notes can be published, Ericson Acosta’s own prison diaries are regularly posted online at acostaprisondiary.blogspot.com.

The Jailhouse Blog contains Acosta’s experiences in prison like the entry written last April 13:

I suppose I’m still basically ill-adjusted with my present prison set-up. I find it almost impossible to write during the day. The heat inside the cell is simply oppressive – there is no ceiling here, the lone window is less than a square foot, and my tarima is just beside two charcoal stoves that burn non-stop. The noise outside and the frenzied – sometimes juvenile, sometimes zombie-like goings on among my 12 kakosas (fellow prisoners) inside a stifling, cramped-up space are just too distracting, disorienting.

Or the entry written last April 17:

In many ways, dalaw (visit), hangin (wind) and great expectation are all quite synonymous as far as the inmates here are concerned.

The visiting area or dalawan is almost three times the space of any of the regular cells. It also functions and is interchangeably referred to around here as pahanginan. Once a week, each cell group, composed of twelve inmates on the average, gets the chance to lounge here for a few hours. The idea is to somehow experience breathing – not necessarily fresh but simply – air. There’s almost an extreme absence of oxygen inside the cells, especially between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. And so the weekly pahangin is such a gracious respite the inmates anticipate with excitement much like waiting for a scheduled dalaw.

The blog also features Acosta’s prison reflections:

Yet prior to my illegal arrest and detention, I had long and pretty much accepted that, for all its intents and purposes, I had already been a rather obscure, almost estranged member of this community. This had been a consequence among the many trade-offs, so to speak, in choosing to work fulltime in the anti-feudal, anti-fascist and cooperative movement of poor peasants and farm workers in the countryside.

Being uprooted from one’s immediate and familiar milieu was, in fact, a sacrifice of considerable weight… There was romance to it too, of course, and as a poet, nothing of the earthy images of ricefields and barefoot children, nor the primal sounds of crickets and crows ever escaped me. There would be times, however – and these I think were moments of lucid self-appraisal – when it seemed as if I had somehow escaped poetry.

And poems written by Acosta while in jail are also posted in this same prison blog.

Apart from putting up the online prison diary, the organizers of the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign also came up with an online petition. They also posted a Facebook page that has so far taken 788 likes as of this writing.

Backing for the campaign to free Acosta continues to grow as proven by the growing number of statements, testimonies, and other articles compiled in the campaign blog freeacosta.blogspot.com.

The struggle for freedom by Acosta and other political prisoners in the Philippines continues.

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