As I write this, cultural maven and journalist Pablo Tariman is sharing, as it unfolds, the arrangements for the wake of slain poet, writer, and revolutionary Ericson Acosta, his son-in-law.
Acosta’s wife was the late Kerima Tariman-Acosta.
The couple were killed on separate occasions about a year apart in Negros by military forces.
By now you will have read or watched news items about both slayings. You will have heard accusations that both Ericson and Kerima were communists, members of this or that left-wing group, engaged in battle against the government.
But hopefully you will have heard both sides.
Otherwise, you will not be able to make a fair and accurate judgment about this. “Audi alteram partem,” meaning “listen to the other side” is all about justice, about not judging without knowing both sides of the story, about letting each side have the opportunity to respond to what is said about them.
On the part of Pablo Tariman, Ericson and Kerima’s son Emman, and their other relatives and friends, they are grieving the painful loss of a son-in-law, father, friend. Many without a close personal connection to Ericson, but who are admirers of his political stance, his poetry and other writings, his music, and his courage and dedication to what he believed, in feel bereft.
The arts and literature community feel the loss of Ericson and Kerima keenly.
Both were awarded poets; Ericson won the 35th National Book Award for Poetry in Filipino for his book Ang Mula Tarima Hanggang.
The book was written while he was detained for two years as a political prisoner.
He was arrested without a warrant, while not doing anything illegal or committing a crime; he was not informed of the reason for his arrest at the time he was taken; he was not only denied the right to counsel, he was also denied his phone call and of any other means to contact his family or lawyer; he was tortured.
A complaint was filed against him only 72 hours after his arrest. His death is again an injustice.
As part of his job as consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Ericson was interviewing farmers in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, about their working conditions when early in the morning of Bonifacio Day, he and peasant organizer Joseph Jimenez were captured and killed by elements said to be from the 94th and 47thI Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army.
The military alleges they were armed, but eyewitnesses say there was no firefight or encounter.
Ericson and Joseph were unarmed.
A source claims that they were shot “parang si Heneral Luna” — a reference to the movie of the same title that portrayed the Philippine Revolution hero as having been riddled to death with bullets by soldiers in an ambush.
As when Kerima died last year, her father Pablo is expressing his sorrow and anguish and trying to make sense of all this tragedy through writing poetry.
His poem “Death in the Morning” has been shared online over a million times as of Dec. 4:
DEATH IN THE MORNING
By Pablo Tariman (with permission)
One more time
You rewind another life
Gone at fifty
With just his poems
For his only son to peruse
As last mementoes.
No more time to grieve
The container of sadness is dry
From previous year’s constant grief
You have rehearsed this before
Going to a roomful of dead people
And identifying your loved one
And then you bring him
To nearest crematorium
To later settle in an urn
There is no time
They have chosen
Another way to live
And reach their ideal
For the hungry
And the oppressed
And constantly coping
Lackeys of war.
A day before his death
He was talking about
Seeing a doctor
For his recurring ailment.
He didn’t make it
To his doctor’s appointment.
From what I heard
He was arrested alive
And later riddled with bullets
Typical of dogs of war.
His son expected
To see his father
For a last hug and embrace.
But early morning
Of a fateful Thursday
He is gone.
Like the way he saw
His mother for the last time
Lifeless on a cold stretcher
In a morgue
In the shadow of Mt. Silay.
I can only rewind
Fifty years of his life
And forty two years
Of my daughter’s life.
Am figuring out his grave:
Should I bury him
Beside my daughter’s crypt
Or beside his father’s tomb
In another town?
I am airport-bound
For last appointment
With the departed.
I have come to terms
With this life
As I have lived it.
Happy my loved ones
Have come to terms
The brave way.
Ericson will be laid to rest beside Kerima in a cemetery in Pasig City.
Many organizations have denounced the brutal slaying of Ericson Acosta and are calling for an honest and impartial investigation into the circumstances.
Ericson was an activist, and while many have cast aspersions on him as well as Kerima and questioned their life choices, the more pressing question to ask is why intellectuals such as they were inspired to help the poor and marginalized sectors of society.
The reason lies in the systemic oppression and injustice that permeates Philippine society.
The poor become poorer while the rich become richer and more powerful.
There will always be revolutionaries while there is inequality in the land.
Among the groups that issued statements on Ericson’s slaying are the Manila Critics Circle (MCC) and PEN Philippines (as well as PEN International).
The MCC wrote that it “strongly denounces the brutal slaying of poet and National Book Awardee Ericson Acosta. We condemn such an act of military violence with impunity that assumes the disguise of authority and justice in resolving perceived sociopolitical conflicts in our land. We decry the use of terror to silence the intellectuals of this sad republic.
“Acosta’s art activism and research work on peasant conditions and rural development were the work of a man of honor, in service of the poor and the oppressed of this nation.
“We call upon the government and the Philippine military to be accountable for the systemic perpetuation of violence against innocent and unarmed civilians. We demand the cessation of baseless allegations of ‘terrorism’ and ‘subversion’ against our writers, artists, and academics. We clamor for truth and reject any form of false information that misleads the Filipino people.”
PEN Philippines wrote that it “condemns the killing of poet, songwriter, and activist Ericson Acosta. […] In defense of our constitutionally enshrined human rights, PEN Philippines opposes all manner of injustice against writers…We call on the Philippine government to perform a full and fair investigation and serve justice.”
Last night, artists gathered to pay tribute to the fallen. There will be more days and nights of homage. Ericson and Kerima will never be forgotten while pens have ink and minds have memory.
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* * Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of PEN Philippines, member of the Manila Critics Circle, and judge of the National Book Awards. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO