Poet-detainee freed, vows to campaign for freedom of all political prisoners

After almost two years, poet-activist Ericson Acosta is now free to two write poems and make music outside the auspices of jail.

Acosta, 40, has been released from jail after the Department of Justice (DOJ) finally decided on his request to have his criminal case reviewed. His petition for review was filed at the DOJ on September 2011.

He was arrested in San Jorge, Samar on February 13, 2011 on suspicion that he is a member of the New People’s Army just because he carried a laptop. He was falsely charged with illegal possession of explosive at the Gandara Regional Trial Court.

Last January 17, the Gandara RTC granted Acosta temporary release for the purpose of undergoing medical check-up, confinement and treatment at the National Kidney Transplant Institute in Quezon City. The Gandara RTC, Branch 41, granted said motion on the same day. Acosta has been since confined at the NKTI, awaiting operation.

When asked what he planned to do on his first day as a free man, Acosta said, “If I can, I would first like to personally thank all those who supported and campaigned for my freedom – my family, lawyers, friends, former classmates and colleagues, fellow artists and human rights advocates. Without their continuous support and indefatigable campaigning, government authorities would not have taken action on my case. After that, the main thing to do now is to join them and, as tirelessly as they did, fight for the freedom of all political prisoners.”

Human rights group KARAPATAN reported that there are now more than 400 political prisoners under the Aquino administration. However, Malacanang, through its spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, made a public statement that there are no political prisoners in the Philippines.

“I am a testament to the government’s lies and grave injustice, and to the unwarranted arrest, torture and incarceration that torment political prisoners each day that they remain in prison. Political prisoners are rendered de facto ‘criminals’ and ‘terrorists’, deprived of due process, with no choice but to be at the mercy of the military. This injustice has to end, and perpetrators should be made accountable,” Acosta said.

The DOJ upheld the irregularities and human rights violations in Acosta’s arrest and detention cited in the petition for review, namely, 1) he was arrested without warrant while not committing any crime or doing anything illegal; 2) he was not informed of the reason for his arrest at the time of his arrest; 3) he was denied the right to counsel; 4) he was denied a phone call and prevented from contacting his family or lawyer; 5) he was subjected to prolonged interrogation for 44 hours; 6) he was physically and psychologically tortured during tactical interrogation; 7) he was deprived of sleep, threatened, intimidated, coerced and forced to admit membership in the NPA; 8) the grenade subject of the case was planted; 9) the complaint against him was filed in court only after 72 hours and 30 minutes; and, 10) he was detained in a military camp, which is not of civilian jurisdiction.

The Free Ericson Acosta Campaign rejoiced at the DOJ’s decision and held a short program outside NKTI. The group said that a thanksgiving and benefit event is to be held in the next few days in support of all political prisoners in the country.

The campaign to free Ericson Acosta has been sustained for almost two years, gaining widespread local and international support from prominent artist and human rights organizations such as the Amnesty International, PEN International, Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, INTAL-Belgium, The International Conference for Progressive Culture-People’s Art Network, BAYAN, SELDA, UP Diliman University Council, Concerned Artists of the Philippines and even members and officials of the state’s National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).  On November 2011, Acosta was named finalist of the Imprisoned Artist Prize at the Freedom to Create Awards Festival in Cape Town, South Africa, along with other nominees from Myanmar and Tibet.

Acosta said, “In jail, I yearned for skies and seas. Now that I am free, I realize that freedom cannot be achieved by mere yearning, only through collective action and struggle. ###