Gary King, PhD of Amnesty International-Minneapolis
National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera
Playwright Malou Jacob
videos courtesy of Kodao Philippines
FREE ERICSON ACOSTA NOW!
DETAINED ARTIST ERICSON ACOSTA ENDED HIS HUNGER STRIKE DECEMBER 10, amidst initial assurances that government is heeding the demand to look into his case and that of other political prisoners. Acosta was visited in jail by representatives of the Commission on Human Rights-Region 8 (CHR-8) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Acosta’s family and the network of artists, friends and advocates behind the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign (FEAC), appeal once again to concerned Philippine authorities to free Ericson Acosta and all political prisoners immediately.
In August 2011, the Amnesty International (AI) released a statement urging authorities to “end Acosta’s detention without trial.” After six months in detention, the international human rights group expressed concern that Acosta, like “anyone subject to arrest or detention is ‘entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.’” The AI also pointed out rights violations in the conduct of Acosta’s arrest and detention. “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… The Philippine authorities must investigate these allegations and hold the perpetrators accountable.”
Pending before the Department of Justice (DOJ) since September 1, 2011 is the Petition for Review of the illegal possession of explosive complaint against Acosta. Aside from the Petition filed by his counsel the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the FEAC network also submitted before the Office of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, several statements of support for Acosta’s release signed by hundreds of artists, journalists and human rights advocates; and publicly released by different groups and individuals. The filing of the Review Petition and the artists’ protest held outside the DOJ premises that day were supported by no less than then-Executive Director of the government-run National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), acclaimed playwright Malou Jacob.
While detained in a civilian facility, Acosta continues to suffer harassment and intimidation from the military. Since July, a platoon of soldiers from the 87th IB was deployed near the Calbayog sub-provincial jail in the pretext of military operations. Today a squad of soldiers from the 14th IB, apparently deployed to guard Acosta, has literally set up camp within the jail compound. The prosecution’s recent motion to transfer Acosta’s custody we believe is based on an imagined, if not engineered threat, and tramples upon civilian authority. Acosta’s court appearances are all scheduled to be held in Calbayog City, making the motion obviously impractical as Catbalogan is hours away from Calbayog. Transferring Acosta will make visits more difficult and prone to military surveillance for his family and supporters. Military deployment inside the civilian facility is highly irregular as it is, and the plan to transfer Acosta to a soldier town like Catbalogan is completely unacceptable. Acosta has had enough suffering in detention to be violated several times over with overkill security arrangements.
Human rights groups have long called on President Aquino to free all political prisoners in the country. They lament the continuing practice of criminalization of political offenses, and cite the campaign for unconditional amnesty as goodwill measure for the peace talks between the government and rebel groups to move forward. Some 38 congressmen have already signed House Resolution 1956 citing the case of Ericson Acosta and urging President Aquino to grant unconditional amnesty to all political prisoners.
Acosta’s family and supporters continue to appeal to concerned Philippine authorities, along with the Amnesty International, the NCCA, the University Council of University of the Philippines, Diliman, the Philippine Center of the International PEN and several other artist and human rights organizations and institutions around the world such as the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines-United Kingdom, the Rice and Rights Network in the Netherlands, Habi Arts USA, etc., have all made public their appeal to the Philippine government to release Acosta and to look into the irregularities and rights violations in the conduct of his arrest and detention. Acosta was even cited finalist of the 2011 Imprisoned Artist Prize at the Freedom to Create Awards Festival in Cape Town, South Africa in November, for the contribution of his work in promoting the creative spirit while highlighting injustice.
Nearly a year has passed since cultural worker Ericson Acosta was arrested by the military in Samar on February 13, 2011. He was tortured, interrogated for 44 hours straight and held incommunicado for three days before a fabricated charge of illegal possession of explosive was levied against him to justify his arrest and continued detention. At the time of his arrest, he was carrying only a laptop and some personal belongings and was accompanied by a local barangay official as a volunteer researcher of the peasant group Kapunungan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Weste han Samar (KAPAWA), a member-organization of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP). Philippine authorities must end his unjust detention. FREE ERICSON ACOSTA NOW!
Statement of Gary W. King, PhD
Leader of Minneapolis Chapter of Amnesty International, USA
Working on Philippine Prisoners of Conscience since 1976
Amnesty International is the world’s largest group working to abolish torture, and seeking fair and speedy trials for political prisoners,, especially for Prisoners of Conscience, which are persons detained, mistreated or killed for their nonviolent political activities, economic activities, religious orientation, cultural group, or other category. We gather facts from many sources, and report on countries’ human rights performances and specific human rights conditions. Our volunteers use this data to bring public pressure on governments to live up to their laws and treaty obligations.
People in our chapter of Amnesty International have volunteered work on dozens of cases of detention of political prisoners and on cases of Extrajudicial Executions and Disappearances since 1976, across now six administrations of the Philippine government.
We are currently working on the case of the Disappearance of James Balao, from the Cordillera People’s Alliance, and the imprisonment of Ericson Acosta in Samar.
James Balao was abducted near his home on September 17, 2008, by uniformed, armed men who said they were police from Baguio. They forced him into a white van. He had reported being under surveillance for the three prior months. Despite filing for a writ of amparo, and several favorable court rulings, he has not been surfaced. The Philippine Commission on Human Rights learned he was seen in an army camp. He has had an Enforced Disappearance, and we fear he has minimally suffered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. At worst, he may have been executed without a trial.
Ericson Acosta, 37, was arrested almost a year ago on February 13, 2011, in San Jose, Samar. To this day, he has not had one day in court, and the prosecutor has not filed a formal complaint, despite charges in Gandara, Western Samar that he possessed illegal explosives. In violation of the Speedy Trial Act (RA8493), he was not arraigned within 180 days.
Of serious concern to Amnesty International, Mr. Acosta reported that he was abused for 44 hours during interrogation soon after his arrest. He was allowed only two hours of sleep. He was threatened that he would be executed. Death threats and prolonged sleep deprivation during interrogation violate international laws against torture and other ill-treatment, including the Convention Against Torture, which the Philippines has ratified. Any statements made by him at that time, also without the benefit of legal counsel, are inadmissible in court.
In our opinion, he should be immediately be charged and his rights of trial begun, or he should be released. An investigation into his mistreatment needs to be done, and if laws were broken, those responsible held accountable to Philippine laws.