Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Read the News (but who is Ericson Acosta?)

by Homer B. Novicio

A day before Valentine’s Day, in a far-flung place down south called San Jorge, Samar, love met 37-year old Ericson Acosta in the form of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 34th Infantry Batallion. Love at first sight? Not so, I’m afraid.

Eric’s story is the same as any other who have loved well enough to suffer its consequences. In his case, it was his strong feelings for the poor that pushed him to investigate human rights violations and environmental degradation; a work he’d done for the Alliance of Concerned Samarenos (ACOS) and the Kapunungan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Weste han Samar (KAPAWA).

You may have already heard how the narrative line goes: cultural worker working with the masses; a military fiery-eyed and eager to pin down anyone with the slightest scent of the Red scare; and one or two fictional charges hurled to hold the subject incarcerated. There are countless stories as such that familiarity has begged the question whether they still happen. You just have to follow the narrative line above, fill in the blanks and you’ll have hundreds of political prisoners all over the country. At least, those are the ones that get the privilege of being counted.

Explosives and Allegations

Allegedly, it was a bag with explosives that did it for Ericson. This did not just come to pass under the watchful eye of 2nd Lt. Jacob Madarang and his batallion of freedom-loving Red menace hunters. Surely, a haunch by a batallion member that Eric was a top-brass player of the New People’s Army (NPA) because Eric had a laptop was not enough to arrest him. They asked him to open the laptop and when it failed due to drained power supply, their faces grew red with much paranoia that would have made Bembol Roco’s character straight from the movie, Orapronobis, mighty proud.

So Lt. Madarang and his band of now merry-men allegedly held Eric without any charges. To while away their time, it was alleged that they interrogated him for 44 hours straight. To their credit, they gave Eric two hours of much-needed sleep according to the counter-affidavit filed by Eric on April 11, 2011.

In a press statement, 8th Infantry Batallion Maj. General Mario Chan pointed out that “Acosta was treated very well by the apprehending troops. As we’ve done so in the past, we assure our people that we will always be observant of human rights. Acosta will be accorded his right to counsel and given his day in court.”

The captors searched in their little anti-Red book. And there, like a heavenly boon borne in bold caps---EXPLOSIVES! Since Eric had a bag during his “arrest,” might as well throw in some explosive materials in them. For added tension, put in that Eric was a member of the NPA and was about to pull out a hand grenade when he was apprehended. Story closed. Case open.

After 72 hours and 30 minutes of his arrest, a formal complaint was filed by the Chief of Police of San Jorge, Police Inspector Oscar Pagulayan at the Regional Trial Court of Gandara, Samar.

It did not take long before the story exploded into the media, rippling across countless internet blogs and pages and setting off campaigns to support and free Ericson Acosta.

Love begets….

Theater was his first love. Eric remained active as member of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) from the fourth grade until his high school days. The year 1984 proved monumental when he joined the staging of Macbeth rewritten to reflect the tumultuous Martial Law of the Marcos era. For him, the catharsis via his chosen medium was enough to drive him to examine and question the society at large.

So he began to read, enrolled at the University of the Philippines as a Political Science student, widened his interests to include music and literature, read some more, began writing poems and songs, read some more until the reading habit drove him to pilfer one to three books with each visit to the library.

One of those library trips brought to his attention a poster calling for aspiring student writers. He took the exam, hurriedly writing so as not to be late for a scheduled drinking session with friends. And the rest goes down as dialectical history.

The contrasting character of a frail built and a mind that had had its share of street and academic learnings plus his sincere yearning for change only added to Eric’s charisma. He became the chairperson of Alay Sining and wrote, directed and starred on a play based on the life of Andres Bonifacio titled, “Monumento.” He was also a much active member of the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP). For Eric, it was a crossroad where real life and the arts met.

The call of the muse was so strong that he began traversing the Bohemian life. He had traipsed through the roads of excess. Finding that his wisdom palace was still far from sight, he’d sleep some nights over at the nearest perpetual adoration chapel. Hell, it’s the only place that never closes and it would not turn away a sinner reeking of alcohol with senses addled by jazzed up periodic elements to boot.

He sobered up with time and age, wielding his pen for the Manila Times and then as segment writer for ABS-CBN. But his heart was really for the poor so that when work was offered to investigate human rights violations in Samar, he didn’t have second thoughts.

Jailhouse Rocks!

Almost five months on and still counting. In a cell shared with twelve 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. 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.

It’s really time that may be loathed or loved wisely inside the prison cell. Necessity out of prison buryong pushed Eric to read to fellow 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.

There is no excuse for failing to write. Eric realized this early on, so he began jotting down in prison. “This is miserable writing,” he begins his blog as he organizes his experiences and epiphanies from the time of his arrest.

His entries prove 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.

As one entry states: “Napakarami kong enerhiya sa katawan. Sobrang enerhiya at paghahangad ng masasayang gabi na sa malao’t madali’y dudulo sa makapal na lambong ng depresyon.” (“I have so much energy in me. So much energy and desire for happy nights which in time will reach an end in the thick of depression.”)

Through friends and visitors, he keeps track of the actions initiated for him in Manila. He is aware for instance of the drive concerened artists like National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera and Pen Medina are spearheading under the helm of the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign. Lumbera has stressed that ”Ericson deserves to be released for his continuing incarceration is a grievous loss to the growth of a truly democratic art and culture of the Filipino people.”

On April 6, a visitor arrived bearing with him news and updates for Eric plus the gift of song. It was BAYAN secretary general, Renato Reyes, who was more than ready for an impromptu jam session. With Reyes on guitar and Eric doing the vocal chores, it was an unplugged repertoire that may have been recorded at any given night in a time of freedom and abandon. Suddenly, Reyes and Eric were two activist students again blazing through songs of love and freedom and equality in a faraway place which was the Vinzon’s Hall in UP.

The whole jam session is available online. Though far from being a local version of Live at the Folsom Prison, it doesn’t fail to deliver the angst and longings of someone deprived of freedom, bursting with raw energy as afforded by cold bars and cramped space in lieu of a good PA system.

In one of the recorded song, “Dahil”, penned by Eric himself he sings: “Dahil kapos ang tula/ Hitik man sa tugma/Di pa rin maririnig/ Ang awit ng pag-ibig/ Kaya nga buhay mismo ang alay.” (Because poetry is not enough/ Though filled with rhymes/ They still cannot hear/ The song of love / So life itself is sacrificed).

Delivering the song “I Read the News” by Binky Lampano, Eric sings through Reyes’ strumming: “Ordinary, ordinary, ordinary man / I’m just an ordinary man.” Suddenly, Eric halts to ask, “Nasan na ba si Binky?” (Where is Binky?). Eric caps the jam session saying that the songs he’d just sung may have been the reason why he’s in jail.

So our ordinary man waits in his prison cell. As of this writing, the fiscal has finally ended the preliminary investigation phase with an antedated resolution to file the court information against Ericson. But up to now, a check with the local courts will reveal that none has been actually filed. His lawyers have come up with a motion for reconsideration for the fiscal to file a new resolution junking the complaint against Ericson. Ericson needs us to appeal to concerned authorities at the Department of Justice to keep the pressure on.

Like a song from the prison sessions, Eric continues to battle the refrains and choruses of the why’s and what-if’s in his head; as a lover does when faced with the sudden end of an affair, the questions come back. What went wrong? Eric looks around his cramped cell and sees small answers, little illuminations which, with his unbroken spirit, might just help him get through another day.

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