I Went to Jail On My Last Days In the Philippines

In July 2011, I traveled to the Philippines to attend some conferences and to visit relatives.  My plans went as scheduled until the last days of the second week of my trip when I flew to Samar in the Eastern Visayas.  I went to the sub-provincial jail at Calbayog, Samar, Philippines.  There I visited a political prisoner named Ericson Acosta.

I first heard of Ericson on Philippine-based blogs that I follow and other social media sites.  It was a far too familiar story coming from the Philippines about activists being wrongfully imprisoned for their beliefs and them remaining imprisoned on false charges.

A week before I visited Ericson, I chanced upon meeting his wife and son through a friend during an art exhibit about protest art.  I imagined that he would have been there as well–if he were free–since he is a poet, artist, cultural worker, and activist.  I learned more about his ordeal and the unfairness of it all.

Having the opportunity to visit Ericson was a small gesture to show my support for his release.  I felt I understood the conditions of the Philippines: the poverty, the landlessness of peasants, the corruption of politicians, the selling off of Philippine sovereignty to the highest-bidding country, etc.  So, I understood why a person like Ericson can be a thorn and a threat because he–like many other activists like him–has a view of how the Philippines can be better but the people in power don’t like his viewpoint and want to maintain the status quo.  His imprisonment is not justified and is illegal.

At first, during our visit, his smiles made me forget that we were in jail.  But the jail warden’s presence in and out of the room reminded me of reality.  For several hours, some friends and I sat there listening to his stories and updates about his life in jail.  He spoke of his frustrations of not being able to continue doing the work he did with the community and of course, being with family and friends.  I found Ericson to be a very articulate, dedicated, and caring person.  At the time of our visit, it had been five months that he was jailed without any formal hearings or charges placed against him.  This is the face of the Philippine justice system–a system of injustices.

As visiting hours neared the end, it was difficult to say bye to Ericson.  I exited the jail as freely as I had entered.  I can only wish that Ericson can do the same.  The moment I stepped outside the gates of the jail compound, I saw the blanket of grass beginning then ending where the line of palm tress appear–I thought this will one day be what Ericson will see on his day of freedom.  I went around town and couldn’t help but think, “this is the community, the people, and the places Ericson was taken from.”  These images remained with me and I knew I had a responsibility to continue spreading the word about Ericson’s case.  This posting is one small step.

Free Ericson Acosta! Blog
Amnesty International Public Statement