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International Reflective Writing

The Philippines

Ericson Acosta: writing…and singing, for his freedom

The following speech was part of an event attended by 70 people to mark International Human Rights Day on Saturday, December 10, 2011 in Montréal, Québec. Participants shared stories of the struggle of political prisoners from Palestine, Egypt, Palestine, the U.S., Philippines and beyond. Entitled 'Freedom for All Political Prisoners! Stop Criminalization of Dissent!," the presentations and candlelight vigil that followed were organized and endorsed by the Centre for Philippine Concerns, PINAY, Women of Diverse Origins Network, Immigrant Workers Center, Certain Days Political Prisoners Calendar, Tadamon, and PASC.
by Joyce Valbuena
member of the Centre d’appui aux Philippines / Centre for Philippine Concerns

In the Philippines, we have no political prisoners… that is according to a statement by the Presidential spokesperson in my country. Because what the government is doing is criminalizing political actions.

But as far as human rights activists are concerned, there are about 360 political prisoners in the Philippines, 77 of whom, were arrested and detained under the administration of President Noynoy Aquino. Human rights violations have continued unabated. Between July 2010 and October 2011 there have already been 64 extrajudicial killings and 9 enforced disappearances. Human rights groups have monitored thousands and thousands of victims of demolitions, forced evacuations, threats, harassment, intimidation and physical assaults, and other military abuses in the communities since Aquino was elected as President 18 months ago.

Interesting to say, President Aquino’s famous father, Ninoy, was martyred during the Marcos dictatorship as an exiled political prisoner in the 1970s and 80s.

Today I am going to share the story of a political prisoner who happened to be my schoolmate in the University of the Philippines. His name is Ericson Acosta, an artist, journalist and cultural worker illegally arrested by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on February 13, 2011 in Samar province which is in the South of the Philippines. He faces trumped-up charges of illegal possession of explosives and is currently detained at the Calbayog City sub-provincial jail.

He was interrogated for at least eight hours non-stop. Up to this day, he is being detained without any formal charges issued by the court. Ericson's counsel filed a Petition for Review of his case before the Philippine government's Department of Justice last September 1. It stated several irregularities and human rights violations in Ericson's arrest and detention including arrest without warrant. He was not informed of the reason for his arrest at the time of his arrest. He was denied the right to counsel and make phone call or contact his family or his lawyer. He was subjected to prolonged interrogation for 44 hours. He was physically and psychologically tortured during tactical interrogation. He was deprived of sleep, threatened, intimidated, coerced and forced to admit membership in the New People's Army (the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines). The grenade that was "confiscated" from him was planted. He was detained in a military camp, which is not of civilian jurisdiction.

I cannot claim to be a close friend of Ericson but I had met him few times because we are both godparents of a daughter of a common friend. I remember him singing an activist`s love song during our friend's wedding. My personal memories of Ericson is that he is really funny, carefree and weird... based on the stories that my friend shared whenever she remembers their University days and how Ericson matched her to his friend who is now her husband.

But to people who know him, Ericson has transformed himself from a “troublesome” artist to a serious activist. His wife described him as a self-styled bohemian brimming with intellectual arrogance. As campus writer and editor of our school newspaper, his grasp of social, political and aesthetic theory relied mainly on his collection of Marxist literature and books.

Ericson wrote fiery statements, popularized songs, and coined slogans as a student-activist. He was a former cultural editor of the University of the Philippines campus newspaper and then became assistant section editor at the Manila Times. Years under the obscenely corrupt regime of former President Gloria Arroyo led Ericson to choose to return to the countryside to live and learn with the people.

At the time when Ericson was arrested, he was a freelance journalist documenting the human rights situation in Western Samar. He was arrested in the company of various community leaders from a farmers’ organization who staunchly defended him and affirmed his work as a writer.

Now Ericson has gone from documenter of violations to human rights victim himself. Ericson Acosta is now writing…and singing, for his freedom. Even in jail, Ericson continues to make his art and music heard despite of the most pressing circumstances. He maintains a blog site diary called Jailhouse Blog where he continues to serve the Filipino people through his poems, songs and feature articles.

With help from fellow comrades and artists, Ericson has recorded two albums worth of songs called “Prison Sessions,” all done while in detention. The songs reach their audience via Facebook and Twitter and are also downloadable to raise awareness of the situation of Ericson and other political prisoners. According to Ericson, his active engagement through his writings naturally serves to effectively amplify the campaign to free all political prisoners.

Ericson is one of the three finalists in the 2011 Imprisoned Artist Prize which is one of the awards given by Freedom to Create, an international award-giving body launched in 2008 aimed to “celebrate the courage and creativity of artists and the positive influence of their work to promote social justice and inspire the human spirit”.

This Saturday and last week, artists in the Philippines sympathizing with Ericson had organized a cultural presentation on the plight of current political prisoners and the nation’s struggle for artistic and political freedom as reflected in the works of artists behind bars. This event presents the wealth of prison literature since Martial Law until the present, and hopes to make the public aware of the plight of its incarcerated authors.

Ericson`s supporters have called on authorities to immediately withdraw the fabricated illegal possession of explosive complaint lodged by the military. One of his particular demands is to pull out the highly irregular if not illegal presence of a squad of military men near his place of detention. A platoon of soldiers were placed there to “guard” Ericson and listen to his conversations with visitors. They fear that Ericson will be rescued by the New People's Army if he stays in Calbayog jail

Currently, the government denies that these prisoners are political dissenters. After having charged them with common felonies (i.e. illegal possession of firearms), the government now treats them as ordinary criminals. In the process, they deny the legitimacy and justness of the grievances of political offenders. Suspicion of being members or supporters of insurgent groups are the usual grounds for their arrest.

On December 3, Ericson Acosta begins his hunger strike as part of the campaign to free all political prisoners in the country. His hunger strike intends to expose the particular circumstances of his arrest and continued unjust detention.

Other political prisoners from various detention cells in the Philippines have also launched hunger strikes since last saturday. Families and supporters of political prisoners have also joined the hunger strike. Others have shaved their heads or had henna tattoo with the message “Free all political prisoners” in solidarity.
It’s a Filipino custom that once one family member suffers, the others suffer as well. We call on to the Philippine government to free all political prisoners so that no family will suffer anymore.

Ericson`s son, Emmanuel, is only eight years old. He may have been spared from the hunger strike now because of young age but his mind surely hungers for answers to his questions on why his daddy is in jail. His heart surely hungers too as he longs to be with his father.

We call on the Philippine government to release Ericson Acosta and to grant freedom to all Political Prisoners!


Ika-apat na Sundang: TALÂ

Sablay man sa baybay
inuukit natin ang pangalan
ng mga inaalala at sadyang minamahal
sa tadyang ng malabay
sa tungkod na yantok
sa budyong at tongatong
sa bagol at palayok.
Sablay sa baybay, totoo,
subalit salatin at silang-sila rin
ang sawing salaysayin
sa siwang ng mga titik na ito—
sumasaludsod sa kalyo at kuko
gaya ng kaliskis, palikpik at hasang.
Silang-sila nga ang mga ito:
silang ulila; silang tulala;
silang balisa at di makatulog;
silang habang nahihimbing ay kinitil;
silang ibinuwal pagkat pukaw na
at sa iba ay nanggigising.

Sablay man sa baybay
inuukit natin ang bawat pantig
ng ating pag-aalala at dalangin
sa haliging liyad
sa hagdanan
sa bintana’t hapag
sa uluhan ng papag na higaan.
Sablay sa baybay subalit totoo
at di na lamang bakas
ng daplis, kurit o gurlis;
di na lamang alimpungat sa sansaglit.
Lantay na latay na ang mga ito
ng ating kinamulatang pangamba:
singaw sa labi at ngala-ngala;
hubad na hiwa sa mukha;
sariwang taga sa puyo;
wakwak sa sikmura ng ina
na nagsubo ng sundang
pagkat sadyang wala nang maisubo.

Fourth Dagger: Journal

we carve the names
of the remembered and deeply loved
on the side of a tree
on canes
on conch shells and bamboo instruments
on coconuts and pots.
Misspelled, yes,
but touch them and they truly are
the unfortunate chronicles
in the gaps between these letters—
burrowing into calluses and nails
like scales, spleens, and gills.
They truly are these:
the orphaned; the befuddled;
the anxious and sleepless;
the murdered while asleep;
the felled because already awakened
and to others are the awakeners.

Source: Acosta Prison Diary:

Free The Artist! Free Ericson Acosta! Free All Political Prisoners!


Mila D. Aguilar

Poet, essayist, filmmaker and Web designer.  She is the daughter of Jose and Ramona Aguilar. She married Magtangol Roque with whom she has a son.  At nine, she started writing poetry.  She edited the school paper at the University of the Philippines (UP) High School.  She was also active in theater and declamation contests. At 18, she was features editor of the Philippine Collegian and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at UP Diliman.  The school year after graduation, Aguilar took her master's degree, taught English at UP, and became a regular staffer for Graphic magazine.  A progressive writer, she was among those hunted when Martial Law was declared in 1972. The military failed to find her for twelve years despite several rebellion and subversion cases against her. In 1984, when she was assistant director of the extension service center of St. Joseph's College, she was finally arrested. In 1985, the Supreme Court ordered a stop to her prosecution in military court, but she was released from detention only when the Aquino administration took over in 1986.

In 1984 the Women Color Press, New York, published her poetry collection, A Comrade Is As Precious As a Rice Seedling, with an Introduction by Audre Lorde. Its second edition, l987, includes twelve from her collection of prison poems,Why Cage Pigeons?, 1984. Some of these poems were also published in Pintig (Life Pulse), 1985, an anthology of prose and poetry by political prisoners, as well as numerous other publications in the Philippines and abroad. In 1996, the University of the Philippines Press published her complete collection of poems under the title, Journey: An Autobiography in Verse (1964-1995).

Damn the Dictatorship

Damn the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.
My people starve
While Imelda lives it up with Christina Ford.
Thirty days after San Juanico
Usurped sweat of the Filipino people,
Rice queues longer than any vaunted
"Seventh longest bridge in the world."
Damn the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.
My people starve
And all the land's riches off to America and Japan.
Ferdinand kisses the corns of the new U.S. ambassador
While coconuts vanish from the stands,
Lapped up by a cabal of compradors
Who careen in olive oil while soap prices soar.
Damn the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.
My people starve
The rice queues lengthen
The prices soar.
While Ferdinand schemes to prolong his reign
At least seven years more,
Seven miserable years of civil war.
Damn the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.
Damn it with a million armalites
To utter destruction.                                                   
August 6, 1973

A Comrade is as Precious as a Rice Seedling

A comrade is as precious
as a rice seedling
One of many, it is true,
but nurtured by them
whose faces grow dark,
and taut, and lined
for the sake of their rice seedlings.
A comrade is as precious
as a rice seedling
for whom the peasant's hands
grow thick and calloused
for whom his fingers
scrape the hardened mud.
A comrade is he
for whom the peasant's toes
get muscled and big
because, like a rice seedling,
he will grow, one of precious many,
to fill the hunger
of him who cared enough
to nurture little seedlings.
A comrade is as precious
as a rice seedling
fed and nurtured
guarded from pestilence and floods
And yes, beloved of the peasant
because a rice seedling
grows, not only to fill his hunger,
but to give birth
to other seedlings
who will give birth
to many more
who will fill the hunger
of generations of peasants
for food, and land,
and right.

As the Dust
You ask
why the sadness.
I would be
as coal
by the infinite
load of the earth
to a single
precious diamond.
But the infernal dust
permits it not.
The most radiant
inner light
could be lost
in one brush
with the wind
carrying this
ungodly mantle.
It creeps
through closed doors
in the dead of night,
I would have you know, 
after you've so diligently
Swept and husked
and cleansed your soul.
You would think
it were a breeze,
imprisoned here
but ah, that breeze
has its designs,
So vulgarly obvious
weaving dastardly tales
with the dry devilish dirt.
With wet cloth
we keep on wiping,
trying desperately
To put some sheen
into our dulled lives,
but they would not
permit it.
Cowardly they creep in
with their petty intrigues
To envelop and mummify
rendering us
friendless and forgotten.
Yes, they would have me
roll in the dust
the better to bit it.
So you asked:
As the dust, I say,
so my interminable sadness.
The above poem, along with five of my prison poems, was published in Wall Tappings: An International Anthology of Women’s Prison Writings, 200 to the Present.  2nd ed. Judith A. Scheffler, ed.  New York:  The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2002, pp. 22-27.

Amado Vera Hernandez: An Arm's Length Piece of the Sky

Amado Vera Hernandez, commonly known as Amado V. Hernandez (September 13, 1903–March 24, 1970), was a Filipino writer and labor leader who was known for his criticism of social injustices in the Philippines and was later imprisoned for his involvement in the communist movement. He was the central figure in a landmark legal case that took 13 years to settle.

While still a teenager, he began writing in Tagalog for the newspaper Watawat (Flag). He would later write a column for the Tagalog publication Pagkakaisa (Unity) and become editor of Mabuhay (Long Live).

His writings gained the attention of Tagalog literati and some of his stories and poems were included in anthologies, such as Clodualdo del Mundo's Parolang Ginto and Alejandro Abadilla's Talaang Bughaw.

In 1922, at the age of 19, Hernandez became a member of the literary society Aklatang Bayan which included noted Tagalog writers Lope K. Santos and Jose Corazon de Jesus.

In 1932, he married the Filipino actress Atang de la Rama. Both of them would later be recognized as National Artists: Hernandez for Literature, de la Rama for Theater, Dance and Music.

Hernandez joined the resistance movement when the Japanese invaded in the Philippines in 1941. He was an intelligence operative of the guerilla outfit of Marking and Anderson, whose operations covered Bulacan and the Sierra Madre mountains, throughout the Second World War.

While he was a guerilla, Hernandez came in contact with guerillas of the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap) which was founded by Luis Taruc and other communist ideologues continued by the Philippine Commonwealth troops entered in Bulacan. It is believed that this was when Hernandez developed sympathies, if not belief, with the communist movement.

After the war, President Sergio Osmena appointed him councilor of Manila during the reconstruction of the war-devastated city. He also became president of the defunct Philippine Newspaper Guild in coordination with its editor in chief, Narjeey Larasa.

But his most significant activities after the war involved organizing labor unions across the country through the labor federation Congress of Labor Organizations (CLO). Influenced by the philosophy of Marx he advocated revolution as a means of change. On May 5, 1947, he led the biggest labor strike to hit Manila at that time. The following year, he became president of the CLO and led another massive labor demonstration on May 1, 1948.

In 1950, the Philippine military started a crackdown against the communist movement, which was had sparked open rebellion in some areas on Luzon island, and the CLO headquarters was raided on January 20, 1951. Hernandez was arrested on January 26 on the suspicion that he was among the leaders of the rebellion.

But the authorities could not find evidence to charge him. For six months, he was transferred from one military camp to another and it took nearly a year before he was indicted on a charge of rebellion with murder, arson and robbery - a complex crime unheard of in Philippine legal history.

The case stirred the interest of civil rights activists in the Philippines and Hernandez was assisted at various times by legal luminaries like Senator Claro M. Recto, former President Jose P. Laurel and Claudio Teehankee, who would later become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. But he remained in prison while his appeal was pending.

It was while he was imprisoned that he wrote his most notable works. He wrote Isang Dipang Langit (A Stretch of Heaven), which later won a Republic Cultural Heritage Award, and Bayang Malaya (Free Nation), which later won a Balagtas Award. Also written in prison was his masterpiece Luha ng Buwaya (Tears of the Crocodile). Portions of his novel Mga Ibong Mandaragit (Birds of Prey) was also written while he was at the New Bilibid Prison. He also edited the prison's newspaper Muntinglupa Courier.

After five years of imprisonment, the Supreme Court allowed Hernandez to post bail on June 20, 1956. He then resumed his journalistic career and wrote a column for the Tagalog tabloid Taliba. He would later be conferred awards in prestigious literary contests, like the Commonwealth Literary Contest (twice), Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards (four times) and journalism awards given by the National Press Club of the Philippines (four times).

On May 30, 1964, the Supreme Court acquitted Hernandez in a decision that would be a landmark in Philippine jurisprudence. The case People of the Philippines vs. Amado V. Hernandez is now a standard case study in Philippine law schools. Hernandez continued to write and teach after his acquittal. He was teaching at the University of the Philippines when he died on March 24, 1970. The University of the Philippines posthumously conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Humanities honoris causa. The Ateneo de Manila University awarded him its first Tanglaw ng Lahi award. He was posthumously honored as National Artist for Literature in 1973. Together with poet José García Villa, Hernández was the first to receive the title in literature.

Source: Wikipedia:

Ang Panday

Kaputol na bakal na dungkal sa bundok,

dinalisay muna sa apoy, lumambot;

sa isang pandaya’y matyagang pinukpok,

niyari ng panday na nasa ng loob.

Walang anuano’y naging kagamitan

araro na ngayon ang bakal na iyan-,

ang bukiri’y buong sipag na binungkal,

kasabay ang tanim ng dilig ng ulan.

Nguni’t isang araw, sumiklab ang gulo

at ang sambayanan ay bulkang sumubo;

tanang makabansa’y nagtayo ng hukbo

pagka’t may laban nang nagaalimpuyo!

Ang lumang araro’y pinagbagang dagii,

nilagyan ng talim nang pandaying muli:

naging tabak namag tila humihingi

ng paghihiganti ng lahing sinawi!

Kaputot na bakal na kislap ma’y wala,

nguni’t ang halaga’y hindi matingkala—

ginawang araro’t pambuhay ng madla,

ginawang sandata: pananggol ng bansa!

Pagrnasdan ang panday, bakal din anaki,

walang kayabanga’t nasa isang tabi;

subali’t sa kanyang kamay na marumi

ay naryan ang buhay at pagsasarili!

The Blacksmith

A piece of iron-ore pried out of the mountain

Yielded to the fire’s caress till it softened,

Then hammered with patience in a smithshop,

Molded by the smith to his heart’s desire.

In a moment’s lapse a tool emerges;

That ore is now a steel plough;

With all energy the soil’s torn up

To the rhythm of sowing, to the blessing of rain.

But one day, revolt blazed up!

And the whole country was a fiery volcano,

And all patriots formed an army

Deep in the struggle’s destructive rage!

Swiftly the old plough glows white-hot

Forged anew with burning edge;

This is the blade that seems to beg

Vengeance for an injured race.

A piece of steel without even a glitter,

But its value can never be measured—

Forged into a plough: nourisher of all!

Forged into a weapon:

anvil of the land!

Behold the blacksmith solid as steel,

Bearing no pride, humbly quiet in his corner;

But in his dirty hands he holds

Life, liberation, and national selfhood.

Source: The Philippines Matrix Project:

An Arm's Length Piece of the Sky

I am held by an evil leader
seeking to cage my thoughts,
a body weak, he says, is surrender,
emotions suppressed, advocacy hindered.

I am kept in a cruel place:
rock, steel, bullets, ferocious guards;
isolated from the world
alive, treated as dead.

From the little window, my sole consolation
is an arm's length piece of the sky, full of tears,
a paltry handkerchip to dress a wounded heart,
flag of my misfortune.

Sharp as lightning are the guards' eyes,
at the gates, with keys, no one can go near;
the scream from a nearby cell
resembles a cave animal's howl.

Days pass like a chain
dragged along by bloody feet,
the nights are a blanket of sorrow
in the coffin-like realm of the jail.

Sometimes, quiet footsteps pass,
with a line ofrattling, clinking chains;
to the pale sun momentarily exposed,
a thousand shadows escape.

Sometimes, the night is awakened
by an alarm - an escapee! - gunfire!
sometimes the old bell cries,
at the execution den, someone lies dying.

And this is my only world now-
the prison house, a graveyard of the living;
ten, twenty, and all of my years
my whole life will be here.

But a resolute mind knows not fear nor agony
and hope still springs in my heart:
imprisonment is part of the struggle,
jail, the fate of the embattled.

Man and God do not sleep
the unfortunate won't stay oppressed,
tyranny has a price to pay,
while a Bastille exists, people will resist.

And tomorrow, in this very place, I will see
an arm's length piece of the sky with no more tears,
the golden sun of victory will shine... 
free, freedom I'll embrace! 

Muntinlupa Prison
April 22, 1952

Source: Pinas Forum:



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