Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ericson Acosta : From Monument to Masses*

Ericson's father Isaias, with artists Boy Dominguez and Ed Manalo, Bayan staff Oyoboy Pascual, and the writer (right) during the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign public launch last April 15.

Renato Reyes, Jr. in Like a Rolling Stone

“'Yung mga laman ng kantang yun…siguro yun ang dahilan kung bakit ako nandito.”

Such were the words of political prisoner and cultural worker Ericson Acosta as we concluded the “Prison Sessions”recording at the Calbayog sub-provincial jail last April 6. Acosta, who was arrested without warrant last February 13, faces false charges of illegal possession of explosives and remains incarcerated at the Calbayog jail.

Ericson wasn’t exaggerating when he said that the songs we recorded that day, songs that spanned the entire 17 years that I have known him, were somehow to blame for his current situation.

I met Ericson in 1994, during a period of transition in the Philippine Collegian. Our meeting was not really of a political sort. We just happened to be at the 4th floor of Vinzons Hall, where the Center for Nationalist Studies library and the Collegian office were located and where the rehearsals for Alay Sining’s PD1081 were being held.

It was during those times that we happened to have a similar interest in music, along with the Kule editor-in-chief Mike Ac-ac who played the blues harp. Our “set list” consisted of Binky Lampano, The Doors, U2, The Jerks, Eraserheads, Yano and so on. The stage was the 4th floor lobby of Vinzons, or the Grandstand in Sunken Garden. We eventually brought our “performances” to protest actions against the commercialization of UP, with megaphones as our sound system.

Ericson got to know the activists of ND movement, both in and out of Kule. He would eventually join and lead Alay Sining. He went on to write and perform songs that he composed. Ericson wrote epic loves songs that inspired revolutionary romanticism among listeners.

His songs found an outlet through the multi-media production called Monumento, about the life of Andres Bonifacio and the unfinished revolution. He wrote and directed the production and was also the lead actor. One of his early compositions, “Awit ng Kasaysayan” was the opening song.

Ericson’s songs however, are not just meant to inspire or consolidate the ranks of the activist youth. The songs are often a reflection of his own personal contradictions as artist and activist. The songs exhort the artist to follow the road less traveled and to immerse themselves in the revolutionary struggle of the people.

The second stanza of the song “Dahil” tells us why.

“Dahil itong pagtula
hitik man sa tugma,
lagyan pa ng himig,
di pa rin marining,
ang awit ng pag-ibig.

Kaya nga buhay mismo ang alay
Di lang luha, sigaw, tula at awit
Kaya nga alay mismo ang buhay
Ngayo’y di na kaila sa akin kung bakit”

The song “Haranang Bayan” may have referred to Ericson being a “late bloomer” as far as activism was concerned. Learning to playing music, even belatedly, became a metaphor for joining the struggle. It is never too late to be part of this grand “composition”.

“Sadyang di pa huli ang lahat
Bukas tatanganan ang gitara
Mag-aaral tumugtog ng tapat
Darating din ang araw ng harana

Sadyang di pa tapos ang laban
Kailangang hawakan ang sandata
Pagkat awit ay di sasapat
Upang lubos na tupdin ang panata”

Again the familiar theme reminds the audience of the artist’s ultimate goal. The same is true in Ericson’s poem, “And so your poetry must”, a scathing criticism of poets and artists who deny social realities.

And so in recollecting
your epiphanies
you elude the void
which is my hunger
the famine of millions
the empty bowl of history.

The love song “Magsasama, Magkasama” has a more upbeat tune and theme, with the artist and revolutionary having accepted his/her role.

“Suyuin ang musa ng kasaysayan
Suungin ang dusa na kasabayan
Maglalayag, tula’t mga talata
Maghahayag, pulang mga panata”

And so from this pledge (panata) to serve the people, Ericson went outside the university and experienced firsthand the struggles of the oppressed masses. Fulfilling his pledge meant going to picket lines, far-flung barrios and depressed communities. Developing his craft meant making art serve the people struggle. At the time of his arrest, Ericson was investigating the human rights situation in Ban-yang, San Jorge,Samar.

Prior to this, he had written articles on human rights violations against farmers in Samar. His only “crime” at the time of his arrest was that he was a Tagalog-speaking person with a laptop in a remote village. His affidavit tells of the strange circumstances of his illegal arrest and how, because he seemed a bit out of place in that barrio setting, he was accused of being an NPA. One can’t help but recall how, similarly during Martial Law, those with long hair were arrested on suspicion they were activists. It seems that in some places in the country, people are still living in that era.

“Dati sa Vinzons lang tayo kumakanta,” I told him at the start of the recording.

From Vinzons Hall to the Calbayog jail multi-purpose hall, from the first mounting of Monumento, to the raw recordings inside prison, Ericson has come a long way. His current situation may not be something he had contemplated in any of his songs, but rather an unexpected consequence of the choices he had made as an artist and activist.

And they were the right choices, notwithstanding the sacrifices he currently has to endure. If anything, his experience further highlights the continuing gross human rights violations under the current regime. From a documenter of human rights violations , to a human rights victim himself, Ericson’s unjust detention serves as a challenge for all artists to get actively involved in the cause of civil liberties, genuine freedom and democracy.

We are happy that fellow artists, writers and activists have thrown their full support behind his fight for freedom. Ericson is waging his own struggle behind bars. Every song, poem and statement from his detention facility is an assertion of his rights, and an indictment of the rotten system.

“Salamat sa inyong suporta,” Ericson’s voice almost cracks. “Magkikita din tayo.”

Ericson will celebrate his birthday on May 27, likely still behind bars as he awaits the prosecutor’s decision on whether or not the case against him will be filed in court. A campaign has been launched for his immediate release. We plan to have a benefit gig for Ericson to coincide with his birthday.

We stand firmly with Ericson during this difficult period of struggle.

“Hangga’t digma’y may saysay.
Hangga’t dugo’y may kulay.
Hanggang tagumpay.”

*From Monument to Masses was a progressive post-rock band based in the Bay Area during the last decade. The name of the band was meant to challenge the notion that great men, for whom monuments are built, are the real makers of history. For FMTM, it is the struggle of the masses which shape society and determine the course of history.

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