Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Finally, with Ericson Acosta!

by Sarah Raymundo

Perhaps one of the unexpected things that have come out of Ericson Acosta’s political prisoner status is the fact that Emani Cricket -his only son- has learned to play the guitar so well. Someone or else something must return what this boy has lost to the fascistic ways of the U.S. Aquino regime. This for Eman has turned out to be the guitar chords of songs that Eric had written singlehandedly or with the radical cultural crew.  It was perhaps his means of finding a better way with Eric who has ceased to return to Manila since he was captured in Samar in February 2011. Since then, not a single hearing of his case, no word from the Department of Justice, nothing at all from the state that took him away from his wife, son, friends, and the movement that he continues to serve.

But one Saturday afternoon before the end of June I wed my time with Kerima’s,  and found ourselves with the Cricket in his room, on a double-decker. While the mother was hell bent on finishing an important piece, Emani  and I got busy with the junior guitar which Eric bought years ago out of his savings from a small stipend that full-time activists receive on a regular basis. Not the best guitar I’ve laid my eyes on. But Emani’s hands on the digital tuning machine from Tito Ruel is a magical clincher. I played the monumental intro to Blur’s Tender, claiming it to be one of Eric’s favorite songs even when I wasn’t sure that he shared my obsessive liking for it. After playing the first stanza, I gave the guitar back to Eman. He then played from the top, and no other piece had any edge or significance, for me anyway, and at least for that moment.

Fast forward to Sunday, July 22, 2011, Ericson told me that Tender is one of his favorite songs, and that he and Eman should jam sometime.  I hurriedly marked Calbayog Subprovincial Jail as one of the places where we loved like children, a place much like the University of the Philippines back in the 90s when it felt like we knew each other completely before even beginning. Around half an hour before that, I sent Raia a message and told  her how this short travel  with Bomen from the hostelry to the jailhouse was making me so anxious; I wished this transportation they call the multicab will fail to give me a chance at this vicinity. It was like travelling to the edge where emotions might go haywire and irretrievable.

But the entrance to the jailhouse was smooth. We were welcomed with courtesy upon our mention of “Ericson Acosta.” “Are you his sister? No.” I thought Eric and all the other prisoners are in another building other than the one which housed us for a while, and which reminded me so well of the fact that we have had left the sovereignty of ivory. I must have been swaying from side to side carrying two backpacks, and a shoulder bag which contained Judy’s surprises for Eric (copies of the Philippine Collegian and other relevant university papers, Yes Magazine, Starstudio, a book, a note, and a few things that I had put in, stuff from me and from other friends). Bomen brought Eric a copy of Jun Cruz Reyes’ newest book, Amado, to be launched on Friday (yes, the one from Calbayog gets to read it first), and of Omeng’s Lagalag.

Eric suddenly appeared like some sailor landing from a cruise--poised, genteel, and with the swagger that is unmistakably his. Part of the reason why I was apprehensive in seeing him that morning around 8 o’clock was that our coordinator failed to disclose the identities of his visitors for the day. He doesn’t like that. In prison, he says, he completely has no control over anything about his life. If there are matters or affairs that would affect him for the day, and if these are very well within the friendly radar of the movement, then it should be something that will commit him and his visitors. He wants to know when to wear his best shirt, when to use conditioner for his long hair, and for whom is he making all that fuss.

That circular darkness of the void was not in view. In no uncertain colors did he paint his stories but red. How will I ever catch up in years to discover the pride that Eric has lived through in being with the people of Samar? But he tells of many wonderful stories in a tone so generous, it was almost an assurance that they are ours, too.

Of course there were tears that flowed from his eyes as I was holding the camera that recorded his thoughts on the week-long hunger strike of political prisoners nationwide. Each time I see a dear one in tears, I become a very old woman whose tear glands have all dried up.  That is my body welcoming Stalin and begging him to stay. And I don’t think I owe anyone a fucking liberal irony when it all comes down to some kind of an anti-Wall Street Corporeal Occupy. Eric requested another recording of his message of gratitude and solidarity to those who have supported the cause to free all political prisoners in the country. Tears were shed (his very own, one more time), and I almost hated him for  my awkwardness that smelled like macho shit. He could only say “Close kasi tayo kaya naiiyak ako eh.”

Eric for me is definitely one of those significant Moseses  who have led  me to the promise land. But unlike Moses, Eric gets into it himself. Eric has his own Moses in prison. Moises is an old man who has become one of Eric’s students in a literacy program that’s been running since he got into the jailhouse. Moises loves to read English pieces, he would askcEric to translate every single word he struggles to read. He never had visits from family. He was always out of money. This had been the reason for his low status in prison as he would be the one begging  for food, smokes, and what not from the other prisoners. When Eric came into the jailhouse, he offered himself to be his sidekick. He pledged his loyalty and services in exchange for food and some money. He was baffled when Eric told him that they will share money and food minus his personal services.

One day, Moises son visited him to ask for his blessings. He was about to marry this girl. The son left with the promise of coming back with his fiancée, and a feast that will feed all the prisoners and the jailguards.  For the first time, Moises will have an advantage, he will  not to beg for food but will be  the reason why there is good food. And just because he is a father despite himself. Here is a son, suddenly all grown up, a most welcome stranger to Moises’ life, the same person who asked him to be a part of a very important decision he is about to undertake. All dressed up for the occasion every day for a week, Moises quietly waited to give away his fatherly blessings. That could have spelled endless banter and tough teasing. To Eric’s surprise, the usual badgering among prisoners never took place.

Finally and independent of him, Moises has gained the respect of his fellow inmates through the stories of fatherhood and the beginnings of family life he shared while waiting for his son to come back. His lessons were too precious to be mocked at a time when his greatest expectations failed, and were to mean nothing if amnesty were to mean anything at all to the imprisoned.

I am completely secure about my friendship with Eric. But I do get jealous when friends tell me about new people they have met, people who amuse them lately. I am certain that Moises is now one of Eric’s best buddies. To Moises’ amazement and confusion, a portrait of him with all his tattoos has been sketched by Eric. It was something that Moises could not explain.  Nobody had ever looked at him in ways so faithful , so painstaking, so folksy... it kept his mouth ajar for a while. But Eric revised the tattoos, and turned them into images of Mao Zedong and some political slogans. Moises confirmed recognition understanding of these revisions on account of his political discussions with Eric. But he strongly asserted that such revised portrait is somebody else.  He did not speak to Eric for a short while. That is how I know they are equals.

I did not know whether to tell Eric that Bomen and I will be back for a radical chit-chat sometime soon. "Sometime soon" has always been our deadline for his release. With us when we got there was a motion from Eric’s lawyer to have him undergo a medical check up for his failing kidneys. The hearing for this urgent matter is supposed to happen in Calbayog this coming Friday. I need to tame the wildness of it all: minding deteriorating organs, racing with and against time, dressing up for freedom, gearing up for stalemate, being there. Steady and steadfast, like always, like Eric.

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