Ninoy Aquino and Ericson Acosta might seem light years away from each other, and yet i’d like to think that more than what makes them different, what carries weight here is what makes them the same.
illegal detention, trumped up charges, a military blinded by getting some “big fish” and not getting enough of the red scare, being forced to face your accusers everyday, being removed from and having limited access to the outside world, being treated like some dangerous criminal, in the process making you feel less and less like yourself.
now the hunger strike.
in April 1975, Ninoy went on a hunger strike, and in a letter addressed to Cory, his mother, his children, his sisters and supporters, explained why. Ninoy’s said:
<…> “when the Military Commission suddenly made a complete turn-about and forced me, against my will, to be present in proceedings which are not only clearly illegal but unjust, I said I shall have no other alternative but to go on a hunger strike in protest against a procedure that is intended to humiliate and dehumanize me, considering that all they wanted was for me to be identified as a common criminal, and not only for myself but on behalf of the many other victims of today’s oppression and injustices.”
on December 3 2011, Ericson began his hunger strike. detained artist since February 13 2011, Ericson was arrested without a warrant by the military in San Jorge Samar, at 10AM. he has been kept in the Calbayog Jail since then, on the false charge of illegal possession of explosive – a hand grenade which was planted on him and which the military says he attempted to take out of his pocket (in broad daylight?!?) during his arrest.
From February 13 to February 16, Ericson was not allowed to contact his family or his lawyers, and in those four days, he was not only illegally detained, he was also moved from military detachment to PNP headquarters to the hospital to the Calbayog Hall of Justice. for four days no one knew what was going on with Ericson.
for the past 10 months he’s been in jail. Ericson says:
his hunger strike is also a demand for the
<…> “pull out of the highly irregular if not illegal presence of a squad of military men near Ericson’s place of detention. A platoon of soldiers from the 87th IB were first deployed in the nearby barrio in July on the pretext of military operations, but it has become apparent that the soldiers are there to “guard” Acosta.”
it goes without saying that Ericson’s hunger strike is also his demand for immediate release.
and lest you think I am dreaming here, what PNoy said last year resonates for Ericson’s case:
“We recognize that their right to due process was denied them. As a government that is committed to the rule of law and the rights of man, this cannot stand. Therefore, I have ordered the DOJ to withdraw the informations filed before the court.”
his then Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr. also said “questions raised on the legality of their arrest justify their release.”
PNoy was talking about the Morong 43. also illegally detained, also with trumped up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, also denied due process. last year, PNoy ordered all of them released in time for Christmas. he also said:
“Let this be a concrete example of how our administration is working in the broad light of day to build a country where the law protects us equally. The culture of silence, injustice and impunity that once reigned is now a thing of the past.”
and lest this isn’t enough to justify the release of Ericson, the voice of Ninoy might help. he was after all also political detainee, turned gaunt and sick by a hunger strike that was not just a demand for his release, but the release of so many others like him, as it was about shining a light on the system of warrantless arrests and impunity.
“But peace and order without freedom is nothing more than slavery. Discipline without justice is merely another name for oppression. I believe we can have lasting peace and prosperity only if we build a social order based on freedom and justice.” – Ninoy’s letter to the military commission, August 1975, in Ninoy Letters.
“I believe that freedom of the individual is all-important and ranks above everything else.” – Ninoy, “A Christian Democratic Vision” in Testament from a Prison Cell.
i cannot claim to be friends with Ericson, but i can claim to be a fan: in my undergrad years in U.P., his was a voice that was always loud and clear, but also very human and grounded, intelligent and creative. i never thought about his freedom because i presumed he would always have it. when he lost it, i found that his illegal detention meant a palpable silence to me, no matter that he’s been blogging and singing (here and here), no matter that i had lost touch anyway with the work he was doing after U.P.
now on his hunger strike, Ericson’s struggle as cultural worker turned political prisoner shines a light on the fact that all this time, since his detention, what was always on the line was not just his life. it’s also always been our freedoms — as writers and journalists, as cultural worker of any kind.
it seems to me really, that we owe it to freedom to demand for Ericson’s release.