Ericson Acosta, a poet, journalist and activist, has been detained without trial in the Philippines since February 2011. PEN and other human rights organisations believe he is being held in violation of his right to free expression. Acosta, aged thirty-nine, is a former editor of the student publication Philippine Collegian and chairperson of the student cultural group Alay Sining. He has also worked as cultural writer for the Manila Times, acted in and directed several plays, and is the composer of the Alay Sining songs that remain popular among activist youth groups.
On 13 February 2011, Acosta was arrested by the military in San Jorge in Samar (a province in the east of the country), where he was conducting research on human rights and environmental issues. It is believed he was writing a human rights report on the number of victims of extrajudicial killings in the region. According to Human Rights Watch, killings and ‘disappearances’ of leftist activists are common in the Philippines, and the current government fails to address the alleged involvement of security forces and local officials.
Acosta was arrested on suspicion of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) and was taken to a military camp where he was subjected to intensive interrogation. At the time of his arrest, Acosta was said to be unarmed, with only a laptop and mobile phone in his possession. He was held incommunicado for three days, during which time he was tortured and threatened with death.
On 16 February 2011, he was charged with the illegal possession of explosives. Under Philippine law, this is a non-bailable offence. Acosta remains in custody pending action by the investigating prosecutor. The time limit from arraignment to trial is set at 180 days by the Speedy Trial Act. However, at the time of writing, the prosecutor has yet to file a formal complaint to the court.
In his counter-affidavit, Acosta claims:
During tactical interrogation, I was physically and psychologically tortured; I was deprived of sleep, threatened, intimidated, coerced and forced to admit membership in the NPA; the evidence against me – the so-called grenade – was planted. The complaint against me was only filed in court 72 hours and 30 minutes after my arrest.
Acosta is currently detained at the Calbayog jail. Since his arrest, officers from the Philippine Army have maintained a constant presence outside the prison, reportedly intimidating Acosta’s family and other visitors. His defence team filed a complaint before the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights, but received no response. In September 2011, Acosta filed a petition for the review of his case before the Philippines’ Department of Justice (PDOJ), alleging irregularities and rights abuses. Despite the sixty-day deadline to respond to the petition, the PDOJ’s decision remains pending.
While in prison, Acosta has managed to write and give press interviews. He has also published online his prison diary and some of his poetry. The following poem is from his Pitong Sundang (‘Seven Daggers’) series translated by Charlie Samuya Veric.
First Dagger: Last Slash and Burn
Beforehand the neck, then the forehead, now it’s the mountain’s cowlick
that we are slashing and burning – our last slash and burn.
Have you heard the chatters of the greedy
that I long to hunt you down, execute despite the cries?
Raze, let’s smash, the bridges in an eye’s wink.
Make sure the firewood burns without fumes.
Teach the dogs to howl soundlessly.
And on the trail disguise the trap that we’ve laid.
It’s silly to insist on crossing the clouds
if this parapet is found and our trap is dismantled.
Let’s hold fast to our righteous daggers
though a veil of fog is our only shield.
The seventh poem in the series was lost when his laptop was confiscated by the military. As part of the campaign for his release Acosta is inviting people to contribute a poem that would complete the ‘Seven Daggers’ series. Readers can read his poems at http://acostaprisondiary.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/seven-daggers.html and send poems to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Readers might also like to send appeals to express serious concern for the prolonged detention without trial of Ericson Acosta, and to call for his immediate and unconditional release if he has been held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the Philippines.
Appeals to be addressed to:
The Honourable Leila M De Lima
Secretary, Department of Justice (DOJ)
Fax: 00 63 2 523 9548
Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
His Excellency Enrique A Manalo
6–8 Suffolk Street
London SW1Y 4HG
Update: On 19 March 2012, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor issued an indictment charging Professor Büsra Ersanli with ‘leading an illegal organisation’ and publisher Ragip Zarakolu with ‘aiding and abetting an illegal organisation’ (LR, December 2011/January 2012). The prosecutor has demanded 15–22½ years for Ersanli and 7½ –15 years for Zarakolu.