He was not holding a grenade or any explosive at the time of his arrest and he was subjected to torture while in the custody of the military.
These were some of the assertions made by poet and writer Ericson Acosta in counter-affidavit submitted to the National Prosecution Service in Calbayog City Samar on April 12, 2011.
In the presence of the Assistant provincial Prosecutor Agustin M. Avalon and his own lawyer Julian F. Oliva of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Acosta affirmed that he was a freelance journalist doing research on human rights violations and the protection of the environment in Samar for the Alliance of Concerned Samareños (ACOS) and the peasant group Kapununguan Han Gudti Nga Parag-Uma Ha Weste Han Samar (Kapawa.) He said that during his arrest and in the course of his continued detention, his constitutional and human rights were violated.
“I was arrested without warrant while not committing any crime or doing anything illegal; I not informed of the reason for my arrest at the time of my arrest. I was also denied the right to counsel; denied a phone call and prevented from contacting my family or my lawyer and subjected to prolonged interrogation for 44 hours,” he said.
Acosta said that during tactical interrogation, he was physically and psychologically tortured; deprived of sleep, threatened, intimidated, coerced and forced to admit membership in the New People’s Army (NPA).
“The evidence against me, ‘the grenade’, was planted; the complaint against me was filed in court only after 72 hours and 30 minutes after my arrest; and I was detained in a military camp, which is not of civilian jurisdiction.
Researching human rights violations in Samar
Acosta was arrested On February 13, 2011 in Barangay Bay‐ang, San Jorge, Samar. In reports it released to the media, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that Acosta was a verified member of the NPA and that he attempted to resist arrest by trying to lob a grenade against arresting soldiers.
In his sworn statement, Acosta denied both allegations.
“I had just completed my research task the previous day. I left Barangay Bay‐ang, San Jorge, Samar at a little past 9 o’ clock in the morning, and headed for what the barrio folk call their ‘port’ – an unmarked quay by the river which was less than an hour’s walk via mountain trail, where a pump boat was scheduled to pick me up at the said place and bring me to San Jorge town proper. I was joined by Vicente Dacles, the Barangay Secretary, and several other residents of Bay‐ang who were all going to town as well for some business,” he said.
Acosta said that Dacles was at the head of their group, followed closely by himself, while the rest, who were mostly women and children, fell behind by at least a hundred meters.
Around 10am and when they were some 200 meters away from their destination, they caught sight of a platoon of soldiers who motioned them (Dacles and Acosta) to stop. Acosta said that he immediately noticed that the soldiers were resting and cooking by the left side of the trail.
“ One of the soldiers approached and asked where we came from and where we were going. We answered them. The soldier then inquired if we knew where they could fetch water. Dacles turned around and pointed to an area somewhere, and gave the soldier brief directions on how to get there. He even added that if it became difficult to locate, the soldier could just ask the rest of our company who were lagging behind. The soldier then told us to carry on, and so we did,” he said.
Barely a minute had passed after Acosta and the rest of his companions began walking when another team of soldiers accosted them. Dacles answered their questions and told them that they had already been questioned by the first group of soldiers. When they turned to go, the soldier again ordered us to halt. He was motioned to the mini‐knapsack that Acosta carried and asked him what was in it.
“ Before I could even reply, the soldier, in brisk movements, had un‐slung the knapsack from my shoulders and had zipped it open. It was my computer notebook and some other complimentary gadgets he found inside my mini‐knapsack,” Acosta said.
The soldier was reportedly quite surprised by what he saw. “You’re in the mountains but you have a laptop?” the soldier said.
The soldier and his team then led Acosta and his companions back to where the main body of the platoon was. There the soldiers took turns body-searching Acosta. They emptied his pockets and his sling pouch; they checked his sides and lifted the hem of his shirt up to his neck looking for concealed weapons. They did not find any.
Then one of the soldiers handed Acosta his computer and told him to turn it on.
“I told them that the batteries had already drained out. I pressed the power button to show them that the computer won’t boot. But another soldier scolded me for pressing the button saying that I might have consciously and slyly triggered the computer t self‐destruct. Then the soldiers, five to seven of them at a time, started to harangue me almost in unison, with raised voices and intermittent invectives and threats. They accused him of being an NPA and that he was probably a ranking official and that’s why he had a laptop. They yelled at him and ordered him to be careful with his movements or he would be sorry and threatened him with physical harm.
“I tried to explain to them that I was doing research in the area but whatever I said was drowned it seemed by their intense excitement to badger and harass me. This went on for several minutes until our other companions from Bay‐ang finally arrived at the scene,” he went on.
A soldier asked the women of the group if they knew me. The women said yes and that they were supposed to go to town with me. Another soldier butted in and shouted and berated the group, “You’re all liars!,” said the soldier, “This man is an NPA!”
An officer finally intervened. He introduced himself as the commanding officer of the platoon. He told Acosta’s companions that they were all free anyway to go to where they were supposed to go, and the soldiers will only take with them the Tagalog (Acosta).
When the women asked where Acosta would be taken, the soldiers merely ordered them to leave. Dacles and the rest of the Bay‐ang group were compelled to leave Acosta with the soldiers and went straight to the port.
An order to kill Acosta
After his arrest, the soldiers led by a 2nd Lieutenant Jacob Madarang told Acosta that he would be taken to the headquarters of the Charlie Company of the 34th Infantry Batallion in Barangay Blanca Aurora. They walked all the way through stretches of rocky and muddy terrain, and during the journey, Acosta herd Madarang inform his superiors that they had arrested him.
It was then that he realized that Madarang was being ordered to kill him.
“ I immediately got the drift of the said conversation. It seemed that Madarang was being told not to bring me anymore to the Company headquarters, but just to ‘get rid’ of me instead. Madarang on the other hand was sort of lobbying or politely insisting that it was wiser to bring me to headquarters for interrogation as he strongly felt that that they could extract from me some valuable information. After the phone call, Madarang told his men that they would take me to the Charlie Company HQ in Blanca. He also commanded a soldier to tie me by the waist before we marched again,’ he said.
After an hour and a half, Madarang ordered one of his men to give Acosta his jacket.
“At first I thought of it as some simple gesture of humanitarian concern on the part of the young lieutenant. As soon however as we entered a village center (this was the barangay immediately before Barangay Blanca), I found out what the jacket was really all about. The soldier behind me who was also the one holding my leash suddenly placed his right arm upon my shoulders. The act made it appear that this soldier and me were casually walking like pals as the platoon passed through the dimly lit steets of the village. The platoon had to make sure that no one in the barrio saw the unit with a captive,” he said.
The soldiers and Acosta arrived at the military headquarters around 9:00 pm and Acosta was turned over to higher military authorities. He was told that he should be grateful that they let him live because he could have been shot and killed instead and the account reported as the result of an encounter with rebels.
For the next few hours, Acosta was subjected to interrogation. He reminded the military of his rights and said that his arrest, detention and interrogation were all beyond the bounds set by law.
“I said that if they are in any way contemplating on charging me with something, then they should just bring me to the nearest police detachment and that I would urgently be needing the assistance of my lawyer,” he said. The military dismissed his requests .
By Acosta’s account, the interrogation by at least eight military persons who took turns began 10:30 p.m. on the day of his arrest and ended only on 6:00 pm of February 15. In the intervening 44 hours, he was only allowed two hours of sleep and only because his interrogators themselves already got too tired and sleepy.
On February 15, Acosta was taken to the San Jorge Municipal Police Headquarters in an SUV. It was there that the soldiers produced a grenade. They proceeded to report to the PNP that the grenade was Acosta’s and that he tried to attack soldiers with it when he was arrested.
After the PNP, the soldiers took Acosta to Gandara Hospital to be examined by a medico‐legal practitioner.
On February 16 at 7:30 a.m., Acosta was made to go through a blotter procedure. The police made him fill up some forms, took his fingerprints and mug shots. After 30 minutes, military officials led by a colonel arrived and took Acosta to the Calbayog City Hall of Justice . He was handcuffed.
During the entire time when he was being charged, no one among the military explained to him what he was being accused of. When he ventured to ask, he was shouted at.
A police official asked the police if it was legally possiblefor Acosta to be handed back to the military under some special custodial arrangements. It was then that Acosta made sure to speak out.
“I made sure that my voice was loud and clear for all the employees in that big office to hear. I stood up and said that the idea was highly irregular and definitely illegal. I then drew their attention towards the colonel and his men by pointing at their group while saying that these men in civilian clothes were the soldiers and officers who illegally arrested me and are now my complainants, and I would never allow them to take me into custody,” he said.
One of the employees told Lucero that I could not be brought back to the military and the best alternative was to bring me to the sub‐provincial jail. Acosta then insisted on being allowed to make a phone call to his family in Metro Manila, saying that the San Jorge PNP had previously denied him the right to do so. The same employee told Lucero to take Acosta to the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).
Acosta was able to call his mother, but it was a short phone call and then he was taken to the sub‐provincial jail where he was remitted. He later learned that a Complaint for Illegal Possession of Explosives was filed against me before the Regional Trial Court of Calbayog City at 10:30 a.m. of February 16, 2011.
Admiral Work and Advocacy for the Peasantry
The peasant organization Kapawa Western Samar has in the meantime vouched for Acosta, denouncing his arrest and calling for his immediate release.The group said that that the military arbitrarily arrested Acosta and filed against baseless charges of illegal possession of explosives.
Filomino Tabon-Tabon, KAPAWA Chairman, said that farmers attest to his Acosta’s admirable work and advocacy for the peasantry. He said that Acosta volunteered for work with their organization in San Jorge as well as other towns in Samar province.
“He has helped Kapawa with our campaign against hunger, malnutrition, poverty and militarization here in Western Samar. One of his contributions to Kapawa is his research regarding large-scale mining in the province. He wrote articles about the situation of farmers in the province that contributed to the success of the farmers’ rally in Catbalogan, which marked the occasion of Peasant Month and ‘World Foodless Day’ last October, 2010,” Tabon-Tabon said in a statement.
The organization said that they are certain that Acosta did not carry guns or explosives.
“What the soldiers took from him were his personal belongings, including the computer or laptop he uses for his work. Acosta was illegally arrested while he was doing research on the human rights situation in Barangay Bay-ang and other adjacent villages in the towns of Catbalogan, San Jose de Buan, Motiong and Jiabong. Barangay Bay-ang is just one of the many barrios in Samar that fall prey to widespread military operations and abuses ever since the time of Jovito Palparan and up until the current Oplan Bayanihan of the Aquino regime,” it said.
It went on to say that military operations still torment the countryside and that there is repression, oppression and the military abuses against human rights persist under the government of President Benigno Aquino and that farmers remain in extreme poverty, and suffer much from natural disasters.
“We do not feel that the Aquino regime is indeed sincere when he says he will free the peasants of this burden, as the government clearly lacks programs favorable to impoverished farmers. While he fails to implement a nationalist, pro-peasant program for land reform, he supports militarization in the guise of ‘bayanihan,’ which in truth continues to cause serious detriment to the livelihood of farmers in the countryside. Aquino maintains the policy of repression against perceived “enemies of the state,” as in the arrest of peasant leader Dario Tomada of SAGUPA-Sinirangan Bisayas in July of 2010. Despite promises of justice and change, the number of political prisoners continue to increase under the Aquino administration,” Kapawa said.
The group said that it fully supports calls for Acosta’s immediate and unconditional release.
“We believe that it is not a crime to help and serve the needy and neglected – it is never wrong for one to advocate the welfare of the marginalized peasant sector,” it said.
Legal defense fund
Acosta’s friends and supporters have already set up a legal defense fund and is currently calling on all human rights supporters to contribute.
In their letter being circulated in various social networking sites and posted in the University of the Philippines Alumni website, they stated personal details regarding Acosta.
“Ericson was a former editor of the Philippine Collegian in UP, a former chair of the student cultural group Alay Sining, and a former chair of the campus alliance STAND-UP. He is a writer, journalist, poet, thespian, singer and songwriter. His works remain relevant on and off campus. Since his UP days, Ericson has worked closely with the poor and oppressed. We his friends, together with his family and human rights groups, are working for his immediate release and for the dropping of all the fabricated charges made against him.”
“We appeal for your support for the legal defense fund which we have put up for him. The funds raised will go to Ericson’s legal defense and medical needs. There are the inherent difficulties faced by the family who are based in Metro Manila while Ericson is detained in Samar. Through your help, we can see to it that Ericson will be released and be reunited with his family and the people he serves,” they said.
Supporters may send their contributions to the account under Isaias Acosta, Banco de Oro, The Block SM City North branch, with Savings Account number 0251065464. For international donations, they may be sent to Isaias Acosta, the same branch, account number 00-0251065464, Routing number 021000089, Swiftcode: BNORPHMM.