Ericson Legaspi Acosta was a consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and I am proud that he was my friend.
My tears are falling as I write these words. It is barely a minute after I stopped reading the Facebook posts of various pages of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the National Task Force to End Local (NTF-ELCAC). I read the posts one after the other, all of them asserting the same thing – that Ericson was NPA and that he was a terrorist who was neutralized in a military encounter.
They did not get a single thing right. Ericson was a political consultant of the NDFP, as its regional command in Negros declared. Was he a terrorist? Of course not. He was a poet, an artist, a prolific writer, a singer, a theatrical performer, and many other meaningful things like peasant organizer, teacher, and revolutionary. He was a friend to many, a father to a young man, a son to a widowed mother, and a husband.
Was he killed in a military encounter? No, he was not. He was killed in the middle of the night after he was captured unarmed by members of the 94th and 47th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army. Instead of being taken captive as a war prisoner, a political prisoner as he should have been had soldiers observed International Humanitarian Law, he was, according to reports, stabbed and hacked to death.
We recognize that by being an underground NDFP consultant, Ericson lived from one day to the next, always in danger, always at risk. He chose to serve the poorest of the poor in the province of Negros, by turns learning from them and teaching them about the reasons why their daily realities are so steeped in poverty. He chose to devote his life to the cause of their freedom from landlessness and class exploitation, and he did it with intelligence, creativity, and energy. He became a consultant of the NDFP, and when we heard about it, we were in awe even as we silently worried for his safety.
Last year in October, when we learned that his comrade-wife, poet and revolutionary Kerima Tariman was killed, our first thoughts were for him. Ericson and Kerima were like rockstars in activist circles. Both gifted poets, both writers, and both committed advocates of peasant and human rights. Kerima’s death at the hands of the military was a grievous shock, and the words upon words she left behind made us realize that not even the purity of the most humane poetry could ever compensate for the loss of the poet.
Now, a year later, still remembering Kerima, we are forced to contend with the loss of Ericson. Again, there is no comfort to be had in reading what he had written or seeing the videos where he could be seen and heard singing songs he himself composed. Not after seeing the pictures of his body lifeless and bloodied on a grassy path in the hinterlands of Sitio Makilo, Barangay Camansi, Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental.
What was Ericson doing in Negros? The region has suffered through a century of violence, and this continues as farmers and farmworkers struggle against hacienda owners to reclaim the lands stolen from them. The last six years have seen more farmers killed with the implementation of Memorandum Order 32 signed by former president Rodrigo Duterte.
Through MO 32, Negros, Samar, and Bicol since 2018 have been placed under a state of lawlessness, the bloody legacy of the former regime. There was the Sagay Massacre where the military killed nine agricultural workers and their families, but put the blame on the NPA and the victims themselves.
Battalions of soldiers have been deployed to these provinces to wage a counter-insurgency war that has led to more massacres of civilians. One military operation, Oplan Sauron, resulted in the death of the Negros 14, farmers from Canlaon, Manjuyod, at Sta. Catalina. A survivor of the Escalante Massacre, Councilor Toto Patigas, was shot by unknown assailants. Also killed were peasant leader from the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) Jerry Catalogo; legal counsel to agrarian reform beneficiaries Benjamin Ramos; and human rights worker Zara Alvarez. Under Duterte, 110 civilians, activists, and advocates have been killed in Negros. And the killings are letting up.
This is the context wherein Ericson worked. He did research and documentation on the lives of farmers and farmworkers and the enormity of their suffering under the hacienda system and the government’s failed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The strength of his will and intelligence he poured into writing about the extreme social injustices the farmworkers were subjected to daily.
And then he wrote about the salvation that could be had if and when the oppressed defended themselves and their right to the fruits of their backbreaking labor. All of this he shared with the people in the communities his work brought him to.
Ericson did not deserve to die in the way that he did – defenseless, butchered like a pig. The accusations and lies the NTF-ELCAC and the military are peddling against him do not justify his killing and how he was killed. Even as they try hard to paint Ericson as a criminal, they are the ones who committed the brutal crime of executing him and his companion peasant leader Joseph Jimenez. They now propagate lies that Ericson and Joseph’s deaths were the result of a military encounter.
The NTF-ELCAC and the AFP are disparaging all the tributes for Ericson and all that he has achieved in his lifetime. He was a student activist and leader who became a peasant advocate and a freedom fighter and an award-winning writer. There is nothing the military can do to change the truth that Eric’s life was one of meaning and that he has made great contributions to the cause of national liberation. They will never be able to create any type of propaganda that will convince us that the work he did was anything short of worthy.
There will always be a debate on whether the armed struggle is correct. There will always be those who think that people like Ericson are deluded in their refusal to give up the fight for national liberation to end the abuse and exploitation suffered by the poor because of capitalist greed. Still, the fact remains that the Philippines remains in a state of war because of countless social contradictions – because the poor only continue to get poorer, and they do so because the corrupt use all their influence, wealth, and power to lie, cheat, and steal again and again at their expense.
The exploiters and oppressors in government or the ones protected by it are armed to the teeth. To defend their interest and to keep their wealth, they do not care that millions starve and die.
There are different ways to end the violence, but the arbiters of that state violence will never stop unless they are forced to stop. There can always be negotiations – for peace, for just reforms, for an end to hostilities – but the government would rather make war and create orphans.
In a country where governments one after the other despise the poor, to choose to be with them is suspect. Teaching them to defend themselves, to dare to dream of a more enlightened, more hopeful future is even more suspicious. Up to the very end, however, all this and against all threats has been Ericson’s life work. It is high time that the stories of the lives of revolutionaries and freedom fighters like Ericson be told and heard. They are men and women who have given flesh and blood to what it means to serve and love this country and its people. Their lives will always have more meaning than those who spent their waking hours disdainful or indifferent to the plight of the poor or working to worsen their misery and anguish.
For who Ericson was and all that he did in service of the Filipino people and this country, we will always honor him. – Rappler.com
Ina Silverio worked with Ericson Acosta in the Philippine Collegian, the official student paper of the University of the Philippines Diliman.