AT AROUND NINE, or shortly after the daily morning headcount, I was in my usual jovial dalawan mood conferring with my legal counsel and a couple of local FEAC (Free Ericson Acosta Campaign – Ed.) volunteers. Atty. Jun Oliva flew in early from Manila, together with an old friend of mine whom I’ve long been used to calling endearingly, and with much comradely pride, by the somewhat juvenile yet nonetheless hip title “Batch.” They were to join me in my arraignment set later in the afternoon.
Ka Jun was quick to remind me of the schedule’s significance. We were supposed in fact to move for the arraignment itself to be put off. A petition for the review of the illegal possession of explosive complaint, praying for the reversal of earlier resolutions written by the local prosecutor in April and August which cited probable cause and the need for a full-blown trial, had already been submitted to the Secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ). A rather modest but by my reckoning an unprecedented libertarian feat in itself, a delegation of artists, cultural workers and other advocates headed by no less that the executive director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, backed my legal team in filing the petition last September 1.
It was thus up to us now (practically up exclusively to my lawyer that is, in that nothing of the courtroom drama sort of speech by the accused was even remotely considered) to convince presiding judge to defer any court proceedings pending the decision of the DOJ. The way Ka Jun explained all this to me, however, in a language so concise and unaffected, in effect trying to tell me how my very first appearance in court – stirred up as I already was about the whole thing – could very well turn out to be just as uncomplicated and uneventfully brief after all.
With all the legal details sufficiently discussed, Batch for her part promptly drew my attention to what seemed like a meticulously layed-out plan concerning certain other aspects of my court “appearance.” She had brought in with her a fairly stylish light-colored short-sleeved polo which, she said, she specifically intended for me to wear to the “event,” if it were not to become such a big fuss for the prison officials. Should they, however, strictly enforce on me the regulation T-shirt (classic chain gang orange) I would then have to choose instead, she said, from among the thematic FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS shirts she had dutifully brought in for me as well for good measure – in three sizes and, very strangely, in two varying hues of orange.
Coaxing one moment, half-censuring the next, Batch was being very insistent that I try the clothes on right away and in front of everybody. I didn’t quite get most of her instructions but I remember her mentioning that I do this or that fancy layering with the polo ang my final choice of T- shirt. Her trademark quirk, I thought had now gotten the better of her, acting like upstart czarina of style with me as her fumbling makeover subject. Or was she, in fact, doing her faithful take on some over-anxious mom, going through the finicky motions of checking her son’s costume a few minutes before a school recital or something? Either way, she was certainly being oblivious to my face turning red. For a second there, I wanted to tell her, “Teka lang, Batch, preso ko, pare, gets mo?” but heck, immaculately tattoo-less I had nothing to emphasize the macho shit. Then suddenly, she too felt quite ill at ease. The furtive glances of the kosas and their visitors, their awkward silence, were not at all difficult to decode – the entire dalawan, she realized finally, had all along been vicariously sharing in my embarrassment.
AT HALF PAST ONE, I and thirteen other inmates were herded into the compound’s open grounds and onto the prison service vehicle. These kosas have all been attending hearings as regularly as every two months on the average over the last couple of years, and so they are quite naturally more familiar with the routine compared to myself. But I knew how anxious they were just the same. Each trip to court I imagined, brings the accused invariably to that pretty intense moment, pondering, battling with every thought of judicial twist and turn which hereabouts without exaggeration, could very well bespeak of human fate itself. Besides, knowing them fairly well by now, I thought the kosas were also feeling especially excited for me in that they were quite sure that I, going through it for the first time, was probably more excited than they were.
I first learned of my schedule in court about a week earlier and I, must admit, I sort of took it outright as a good thing. Though this was precisely what the FEAC and my legal team had long been working on to avert, which just of course given the sheer baselessness of it all, the truth was, I had at the same time quite impatiently been looking forward for such legal “live action” to finally take place. Subjectively from my end, I had actually been wishing for anything at all that, transpiring in front of me, could in an immediate way, assume myself that a battle was indeed on, and that towards it, my attitude was that I was quite ready and raring to get it on. Add to this the news that some local human rights activists and FEAC volunteers had prepared a protest action to welcome my arrival at the Calbayog Hall of Justice, and yes, definitely I was excited to go to court that afternoon. But interestingly, there was just something else, something beyond any expectation as to what might happen in court, that had increasingly given me the goosebumps since the week before.
The poets had been all quite correct – and especially so, I suppose, for someone like myself who for some profound reasons (genuine agrarian reform, for example, and the cultural revolution) had evolved into a creature of the outdoors, and had spent a considerable part of his years constantly on the move – to be locked up for whatever duration is to live the life of a crippled soul and an undead body. Though I have far been able to remain firm and standing – holding on with the highest revolutionary spirits, inspired unerringly by the arduous struggle of the masses of workers and peasants, sustained by my continued political work, and with a great deal of support of every kind – nothing short of FREEDOM nonetheless could ever resurrect me. But as far as some other temporary means of resuscitation was concerned, again there was this one particular basic thing that had eaten me up with insufferable thrill since the day I found out about my September 21 schedule.
Call it the prospect of virtual FREEDOM or what not. The fact was, after seven months of uninterrupted total unFREEDOM, I was now finally about to physically cover a distance far greater than the insanely few paces between cot and toilet, or cot and iron-grilled door, or cot and visiting area, or cot and hell for Christ’s sake. The idea of seeing, breathing the seacoast, tasting its salty breeze as it curves along almost the entire route from jail to court and back I found simply transporting. And the sky, experiencing rel sky, a million times wider and more beautiful than that framed by any of the jail’s windows and pseudowindows, was something of an otherworldly concept that was just driving me nuts. An unfinished poem written a fortnight before the appointed day with my sea and sky says a lot about the affliction:
There it is suddenly
finally: the bluest heaving vastness
of midday sky and sea.
Drenched in sunbeam, the clouds
have all gone inside my head
filling it up with such undeniable lightness
engagingly weighty enough nonetheless
to displace a million bitter thoughts.
The sky is a sweet prayer
to which I try to shoot up
correct ideas in earnest response.
The waves, the foams are a mute presence
yet penetratingly real I feel them at once
against my guts, rushing, crashing,
well intent on washing out
every single layer of ennui
accumulated over the months.
The sea throbs fiercely, like ancient dance maybe,
but as surely as people’s war –
the thing about man
it wants so much to emulate.
IT WAS PRETTY CRAMPED UP inside the van; the rule was to continuously squeeze our hips tightly against those of our seatmates in order to remain seated. But I knew I could have my view of the sea any which way and so I supposed there was really no problem. Even the otherwise unwieldy strain and stigma of being handcuffed seemed bearable so long as the whole transit time meant unlimited exposure to precious sky. Trouble was, the military, unrelentingly keen on me still, clairvoyantly zoomed in it seemed on my every musing, had decided to steal the most innocent even utterly philosophical fun I thought I could muster pout of this thing of mine with the sea and sky.
For the last several months, it had already been largely presumed that my person, my case, had effectively become the business of civilian authority and the judicial process. On the occasion, however, of my long-awaited audience in court, the military just had to come out, show force and let everyone know who’s in ultimate control.
Driven by militarist zeal and conceit, the 8th Infantry Division had imposed itself over a matter that fell otherwise in the purview of prison officials and court personnel. Imperiously and with such efficiency, the 87th Infantry Battalion had planned and carried out an inordinately unnecessary security arrangement to escort me to the Calbayog Hall of Justice and back to jail.
“Sikat ka talaga, kosa” my handcuff buddy told me in awe, “ang tindi ng sekyu mo.”
I was not at all flattered. I felt my poor scheme floored and flattened. I had eagerly set my sight to enjoying a scenic view, to that one rare chance in fact at contemplating virtual FREEDOM, but fascism just had to spoil everything, obscuring my field of vision with it ubiquitous flaunting, taunting presence.
At the prison van’s rear was detailed an army vehicle of infantry soldiers, a full squad in full battle gear. Pacing the convoy ahead of us was another fully armed squad ‘arbored’ apparently by the 87th IB from the PNP Regional Mobile Group. And at the parking lot of the Hall of Justice, I swear I saw a couple of them in plainclothes. I had wished for a fieldtrip by the seaboard, I found myself instead in the middle of a parade of paranoiacs and their gizmos: .45 caliber pistols, spy shades, M16 rifles, gold wristwatches, two-way radios, K3 squad automatic weapons, grenade launchers, a 50 caliber machine gun – the works, the whole goddamn mortal works.
video of Ericson's September 21 hearing