Latest Stories

356 political prisoners go on hunger strike


CALBAYOG CITY, Samar—Since his imprisonment in February, once frail and wan poet-songwriter Ericson Acosta has put on 10-12 pounds, a weight gain that has equipped him with strength and endurance for an ongoing hunger strike.

Acosta, 39, and 355 other political prisoners nationwide began the hunger strike on December 3 to call on President Benigno Aquino III to withdraw “baseless charges” and grant them unconditional amnesty. The strike is to end on the eve of December 10, Human Rights Day.

Acosta shares a crowded, dimly lit cell with 12 other inmates charged with common crimes in a subprovincial jail outside downtown Calbayog. He has given up his daily ration of rice and fish to subsist on water, juice and an occasional chocolate energy drink.

He faces what the Free Ericson Acosta Movement describes as “falsified charges of illegal possession of explosives” and is represented by Jun Oliva of the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

“Our laws remain unclear in their definition of what a political prisoner is,” Acosta said in an interview a day after he embarked on the hunger strike.

“Here we have a classic instance of the country’s system of laws falling behind the historical paces made by the people’s experience of repression. Our strike aims to show that it is unnecessary to go through a full-blown trial,” he said.

At the rehabilitation center in Mankilam, Tagum, Davao del Norte province, the hunger strike of 16 political prisoners started earlier—on November 27—and has gained the sympathy of some 500 regular inmates, according to Angie Ipong, secretary general of the human rights organization Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda).

Ipong said 30 political prisoners in Southern Tagalog shaved their heads when they began their hunger strike.

Desperate act

To political prisoners, a hunger strike is considered a desperate act against government inaction. During the Marcos dictatorship, these strikes were political calls for the release of sick or pregnant prisoners, better services in jails for detainees, or the removal of repressive and punitive jail policies.

Cristina Ellazar Palabay, convener of Tanggol Bayi and focal person of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development’s women in politics program, said the ongoing hunger strike was akin to the ones held by political prisoners during martial law.

“Similar issues are being raised: dire conditions in jail, bankrupt judicial processes (for example, the law tends to give premium to the cases of the moneyed and powerful and slackens on delivering justice to the poor), the injustice of the continued detention of political prisoners who are innocent of the criminal offenses of which they are charged,” Palabay said in an interview by e-mail.

She added: “During martial law, charges against political prisoners were political in nature—rebellion or sedition. These days, fabricated criminal charges are heaped upon political prisoners to cover up political persecution and keep them in jail while court hearings proceed at a snail’s pace.”

Such is the case of Acosta and of Maricon Montajes, 22, a film student of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, who is being held at the Batangas City Jail.

Both artists lived and worked closely with farmers to be able to articulate the latter’s plight, and are now imprisoned and charged with illegal possession of explosives and firearms.

This was the same charge filed against the 43 health workers known as the “Morong 43,” whom President Aquino ordered released early in his term.

Palabay on Wednesday said that Montajes and her six fellow inmates had been “warned” by prison authorities that they would be “penalized because of their protest action.”

WikiPinoy nominee

Acosta was nominated recently for the WikiPinoy of the Year Award, which is issued by the online encyclopedia WikiPilipinas to individuals or groups who empower the public through the use of new media.

Last month he was nominated for the 2011 Imprisoned Artist Prize awarded by the Singapore-based Freedom to Create, for making his art and music heard despite the most pressing of circumstances.

Acosta expressed hope that he could one day join Selda, which works for the unconditional release of political prisoners and humane treatment of those in detention.

For now, mainstream cultural groups are offering him projects that will use his songwriting skills.

Acosta said he considers himself more fortunate than his cell mates in that while they have no visitors, he has enjoyed a third visit from his 9-year-old son Emmanuel.

When Emmanuel was taken to see his father in jail for the first time in May, the boy showed a maturity that surprised the latter: “Alam mo ba, Tatay, na nakulong din si Rizal (Do you know, Father, that [national hero Jose] Rizal was also imprisoned?”

According to Acosta, the boy also understands that in the communities where his father lived and worked, the children scarcely had food and no toys at all.

Raising awareness

Commenting on the general indifference to the plight of political prisoners, Palabay said their efforts to raise awareness on human rights “take multifarious forms and have one message: It is important to be aware of and fight for these rights lest these be taken away from us by the powers that be without any resistance.”

“From local communities to the international community, from barangays to the United Nations and the peoples of other countries, we build solidarity through films, art exhibits, poetry and literature, music and political statements and actions, and discussions on the human rights situation in the Philippines,” she said.

Acosta said he was not confident that the hunger strike would lead to the political prisoners’ release by Christmas.

But he said he was hopeful that the interest it could generate might lead lawmakers to finally “codify the sociopolitical phenomenon of political prisoners.”

Asked if the hair now almost reaching his shoulders was also part of his protest, Acosta said long hair was useful when reading letters from home because it covered his tears.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Benigno Aquino III , Crime , Ericson Acosta , Government , Human rights , Hunger Strike , Justice , law , Politics , Samar

  • The_Great_Barrier_Grief

    Go ahead, political prisoner’s…go on a hunger strike.  The jails need more room anyway.  More political prisoners will need your cell space. 

  • Anonymous

    ce ituloy nu hunger strike nu. para mabawasbawasan naman kayo . dami pa namang pamalit sa inyo.

  • http://twitter.com/ka_marks TheGUM

    The maltreatment of political prisoners under both the Arroyo and Aquino regimes is one more negative image the Philippines can’t afford to have.  Prospective tourists and investors who care about human rights will hesitate to spend money in countries where gross injustice is a way of life.  It’s long past due for President Aquino to show the world that he is different from his predecessor, and assuring the human rights of political prisoners is a good place to start.  He is, afterall, pulling out all stops to imprison ex-president Arroyo, whose time in office was one of rampant persecution of political prisoners.

  • Anonymous

    better not to drink  at ALL and died being a nations’ burden!!

  • Anonymous

    These so-called political prisoners should declare they are communists so that Abnoy will order them released, no questions asked!  Get the example of the Morong 43.  They were labeled as communists and they got released as soon as Abnoy sat in his throne.

  • Anonymous

    kulang lang sa pansin ang mga gunggong na yan, tulad din ng mga lider nila na mas pinili ang mamundok, hayaan nyo na lang mangamatay ang mga yan , salot naman sa lipunan ang mga yan.

    • Vladimir Lenin

      Let me guess…right wing moron with no idea whatsoever as to what’s happening in his country….if you belong to the elite, then that’s understandable…but if you are part of the masses, then you’re pathetic.

  • http://jaoromero.com/ Jao Romero

    how do you identify yourself as political prisoner anyway? and how does the government knows which ones are just regular criminals?

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Opinions split on Napoles turning state witness
  3. Delfin Lee: Blame Pag-Ibig, not me
  4. Plunder complaint filed vs PNP chief, firearms office head over license delivery deal
  5. Cedric Lee’s cohort flies out of PH despite look-out order – De Lima
  6. San Juan cops fail to arrest Cedric Lee
  7. More ‘Yolanda’ bodies found
  8. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  9. Lawyer: Napoles ‘will tell all’
  10. Boy ‘sexually assaulted’ at Indonesia international school
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  3. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  4. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  5. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  6. Bernice Lee arrested by NBI team
  7. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  8. Suspect in Vhong Navarro’s mauling wants to turn state witness – De Lima
  9. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  10. ‘Mom, I love you,’ says text from student on sinking ferry
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  8. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  9. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia
  10. Ex-PBA player Bryan Gahol dies in road mishap


  • Napoles tags over 100 officials in pork scam – Lacson
  • Vitangcol to sue Czech envoy
  • Senator’s kickback from pork bigger than those of Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – Lacson
  • 43 out of 414 Etihad passengers yet to be found, tested for MERS-CoV – Palace
  • Sandigan junks Marcos family claim to Paoay property
  • Sports

  • Caguioa blasts ‘no heart, soft’ Ginebra on Twitter
  • San Mig Coffee grinds out win over Alaska to force decider
  • UP nips St. Benilde; Adamson blasts RTU in Filoil women’s caging
  • Kevin Garnett responds to Raptors’ GM F word
  • Albert Pujols hits 500th HR of major league career
  • Lifestyle

  • Entering the monkhood a rite of passage
  • Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  • Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  • Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  • Life lessons I want to teach my son
  • Entertainment

  • Bollywood Oscars, film stars come to Florida
  • Ex-Fox exec denies allegations in sex abuse suit
  • Kris Aquino backtracks, says Herbert Bautista and her are ‘best friends’
  • Summer preview: Chris Pratt enters a new ‘Galaxy’
  • Bon Jovi helps open low-income housing in US
  • Business

  • SM to rebuild Tacloban hospital
  • PSEi slips after 4-day rally
  • Toyota sells 2.58 million vehicles, outselling GM
  • McDonald’s 1Q profit slips as US sales decline
  • SEC approves SM’s P15B retail bond offer
  • Technology

  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Opinion

  • One-dimensional diplomacy: A cost-benefit analysis of Manila’s security deal with Washington
  • No ordinary illness
  • Reforest mountains with fire trees and their kind
  • Day of the Earth
  • When will Chinese firm deliver new coaches?
  • Global Nation

  • 19 Ukrainians, Russians, Filipinas rescued in bar raid
  • Filipinos coming home from Mideast must obtain MERS clearance – DOH
  • US Secret Service in Manila ahead of Obama visit
  • Palace thanks Estrada for successful HK mission
  • Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted
  • Marketplace