The night before political detainee Ericson Acosta was to be declared free by the Department of Justice (DOJ), I was told negotiations would be underway. It was difficult to be optimistic. Visit him already, I was being told, we don’t know how
much longer he’ll be at the National Kidney Institute (NKTI), he might be brought back to the Calbayog jail where he’s been since February 2011, the month he was captured.
That is, the month of his illegal arrest. He was about to board a bangka on February 13 2011, 10 in the morning, traveling from Barangay Bay-ang to San Jorge town in Samar. He had with him his laptop and cellphone, some cash, but the members of the 34th IBPA led by 2nd Lt. Jacob Madarang insisted he had a grenade in his pocket and was about to pull it out. This allegation would be enough to keep Ericson in jail for almost two years. It is an allegation the military has been unable to prove true, up to this point when the DOJ has declared the case dismissed.
It goes without saying these two years in a far away Calbayog jail has been torture for Ericson and his family and friends.
Which is also to say that within the first 44 hours after his arrest, Ericson would be tortured, coerced, and interrogated. He had two hours of sleep on him. He was disallowed from communicating with his family or legal counsel.
It seems Ericson had disappeared on Valentine’s Day of 2011. Because it would only be on the evening of February 15 that he would be brought to San Jorge PNP Municipal Headquarters. This would be when he hears about the charge of illegal possession of explosive being brought against him. This blotter procedure would take the police until the following morning to finish. In the course of those 12 hours, he would undergo a medico-legal procedure and stay in the San Jorge PNP.
For a good 72 hours after his arrest, Ericson would have no access to family or legal counsel. It would only be upon his insistence to the civilian employees of the Calbayog Hall of Justice that he would finally be allowed to call his family. The case against him would be filed with the Regional Trial Court of Gandara Samar at 10:30am of February 16 2011. He was brought to the Calbayog sub-provincial jail at 1:30 in the afternoon of the same day.
Ericson would stay in that jail for 23 months on that charge of illegal possession of that grenade.
His counter-affidavit filed by the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) led by Atty. Jun Oliva speaks of more than just the warrantless arrest. It also points out every other irregularity in the process of Ericson’s capture and detention. a
He was not informed of the reason for his arrest at the time of his arrest. He was denied the right to counsel. He was denied a phone call and prevented from contacting his family or his lawyer. He was subjected to prolonged interrogation for 44 hours. During tactical interrogation, he was physically and psychologically tortured. He was deprived of sleep, threatened, intimidated, coerced and forced to admit membership in the NPA. The grenade subject of the case was planted. The complaint against him was filed in court only after 72 hours and 30 minutes. He was detained in a military camp, which is not of civilian jurisdiction.
It’s stuff for Martial Law, isn’t it? Made worse by the fact that government is in perennial denial, and refuses to stare issues in the eye. Or at least engage in proper responses to queries. If not to rallies. At the Martial Law anniversary last year, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairwoman Etta Rosales had reprimanded student protesters: “Stop comparing martial law of yesterday to what they are doing now because if they do that they are merely muddling the issue. They should study. Do they know what they’re talking about?”
Does she and this government?
Cue Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, post-Martial Law anniversary 2011, who was asked the question “Can we get your observation on what have been the substantial changes insofar as the human rights situation in the country is concerned?” His roundabout answer could be summed up thus: “To our knowledge, we have no political prisoners” and “I think that’s very, very clear that we—government—frown on human rights violations.” He proves this true by citing Rosales’ appointment to the CHR, because she was a victim of Martial Law, too.
There is no point to having been victimized by Martial Law and dictatorship, by extralegal means of capture and detention, if 40 years hence you prove your memory short and muddled by the power you now hold. There is also no putting Martial Law in the past, when someone like Ericson, probably the most high-profile case of an individual illegal detention (versus, say, the Morong 43), can suffer for two years, until he is too sick to be kept in jail.
Butch Dalisay, writer and professor, says it succinctly: “If the government thinks that the evidence against Acosta is strong and irrefutable, it should prove its case, and prove it quickly. Otherwise, it should free Ericson Acosta and the others like him—arrested for patently political reasons 40 years after martial law—to put that era squarely in the past.”
But it seems PNoy is not one to listen. Asked about the human rights situation in the Philippines in a New Zealand interview, he dismissed this as “Leftist propaganda.” Certainly his spokespersons—CHR head included—do quite well at being dismissive, too. But numbers might work?
430: number of political prisoners in the country. 250: number thrown into jail under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. 129: extrajudicial killings under PNoy. 69: number of farmers killed under PNoy. 25: number of indigenous people killed under PNoy. 72: cases of torture under PNoy.
180: political prisoners under PNoy. 28: number of arbitrary arrests by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in December 2012 alone.
One: Ericson Acosta, poet, cultural worker, activist. You’ve freed him. Free them all.
Data taken from Karapatan 2012 Year-End Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Philippines, and karapatan.org