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Artists, journalists, academe call for release of detained cultural worker

Press Release
April 15, 2011

National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera lead rallying cry: “Free the Artist, Free Ericson Acosta!”

Who is Ericson Acosta and why is a National Artist calling for his immediate release from detention? National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera today led artists, journalists, members of the academe and human rights advocates in the public launching of the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign.


Ericson Acosta

Last February 13 in San Jorge, Samar, members of the AFP’s 34th IB arrested cultural worker Ericson Acosta on mere suspicion that he is a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).

He was unarmed and was in the company of a local barangay official when he was arrested without warrant. He was held for three days without charges and was subjected to continuous tactical interrogation by the military. He has been charged with illegal possession of explosives and is detained at the Calbayog sub-provincial jail. Handling his defense is a legal team from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), led by Atty. Jun Oliva and Atty. Rey Cortez.

Acosta is a former UP activist. During the ‘90s, he served as editor of the Philippine Collegian, UP’s official student publication. He was former chairperson of the student cultural group Alay Sining, former chair of the campus alliance STAND-UP and member of the UP Amnesty International.

Acosta edited the Philippine Collegian’s groundbreaking F1 Literary Folio, where his poem “And So Your Poetry Must” first appeared. He acted in several theater productions in UP, including the UP Repertory Company’s “Sa Sariling Bayan” directed by Soxy Topacio; Dulaang UP’s “Green Bird,” directed by the late Ogie Juliano; and “Monumento,” which he wrote and directed. He also played the lead role of Andres Bonifacio in this multi-media production by the UP Alay Sining. Acosta also wrote several patriotic songs for the activist cultural group.

He has worked in the media as segment writer for ABS-CBN’s Wanted TV Patrol and assistant entertainment section editor of the Manila Times. His works as a poet and songwriter have remained relevant especially to the succeeding generations of activists in and out of the university. He helped in the reestablishment of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) during EDSA II, and has worked closely with the peasant sector. His bias for the poor and oppressed dates back to his campus days.

Lumbera, who is currently in Baguio for the 50th UP National Writers’ Workshop (UPNWW), was with the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign launch in spirit, and delivered his message via SMS: “He deserves to be released for his continuing incarceration is a grievous loss to the growth of a truly democratic art and culture of the Filipino people." Lumbera has known Acosta since his activist days in the university and has published favorable reviews for “Monumento.”

Panelists and fellows of the 50th UPNWW, in an official statement, also expressed support for Acosta’s immediate release: “As writers and artists some of us have worked directly and in collaboration with Ericson Acosta who is also a writer, poet, thespian, singer and songwriter.”

Acosta's plight is no different from artists like Lumbera, Bonifacio Ilagan, Jun Cruz Reyes and Axel Pinpin who were also incarcerated, persecuted and harassed for their political beliefs.

The Free Ericson Acosta Campaign is spearheaded by Acosta’s former colleagues from the UP Philippine Collegian, UP Alay Sining and UP Amnesty International, as well as his former schoolmates from St. Mary’s College, UST High School, his family and friends.

The campaign started when friends started posting personal testimonies about Acosta in their blogs and Facebook accounts, immediately after they became aware of his illegal arrest and detention in February. The campaign now maintains the Facebook page “Free Ericson Acosta,” and a campaign blog (www.freeacosta.blogspot.com).

Supporters of the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign also include veteran actors Fernando “Nanding” Josef, Rody Vera, Pen Medina, and Bonifacio Ilagan; Dean Roland Tolentino of the UP College of Mass Communications; Dr. Alice Guillermo of the UP College of Arts and Letters; former Dean of the UP College of Fine Arts Neil Doloricon, poets and literary critics Dr. Gemino Abad, Gelacio Guillermo, Prof. J. Neil Garcia, Jun Cruz Reyes; poet Richard Gappi of the Neo-Angono Artists’ Collective and former political detainee Axel Pinpin of the Tagaytay 5; visual artists Egai Talusan Fernandez, Boy Dominguez, Mideo Cruz,  and Julie Lluch; filmmakers Sigfried Barros Sanchez, Kiri Dalena, Carlitos Siguion-Reyna and Bibeth Orteza; poet and musician Jess Santiago, rock musicians Chickoy Pura of The Jerks and Eric Cabrera of Datu’s Tribe, and journalists Elizabeth Lolarga, Kenneth Guda, Norman Bordadora, K Alave and Iris Pagsanjan.

Former Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Vice President and Artistic Director Nanding Josef said: “This new administration is challenged to be different from its predecessors. Free those whose only ‘crime’ is genuinely serving the least served, and jail without delay those who have greedily taken away ‘food on the table of the poor.’ Free Ericson Acosta!”

“I know him (Ericson Acosta) personally as a cultural worker. I am humbled by his sacrifices and his commitment to the poor. My accomplishments as an artist and cultural worker are nothing compared to his," Josef added.

Even in detention, Acosta struggles to make his voice heard. A raw recording dubbed “Prison Sessions” uploaded by BAYAN Secretary General Renato Reyes, Jr. – who on his April 6 visit to the Calbayog jail played acoustic guitar while Acosta sang some of his original compositions for Alay Sining –  instantly generated thousands of hits on its first few days on the web.

In a highly emotional statement, Acosta expressed his willingness to become the campaign’s “principal mass leader and propagandist.”

“My active engagement through my writings naturally serves to effectively amplify the campaign, as well as the general call to free all political prisoners,” he said, despite having writing difficulties given dreadful conditions in prison.

The Free Ericson Acosta Campaign called on all concerned artists, freedom-fighters and human rights advocates to unite against political repression and attacks on human rights and civil liberties. Their rallying cry: “Free the Artist! Free Ericson Acosta!”