The poet as agitator for social justice

“Artists love deeply, and so when they find themselves amongst the masses, the masses inevitably become their muse”

November 30, the birthday of revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, has always been a day of both celebration and grievance.

It is joyful as we commemorate the meaning of resistance, and angry as we still struggle against oppression.

This year in particular was also filled with grief as news spread that Ericson Acosta was killed.

How ironic is it that on the birth of a national hero, another hero is found dead?

More so, December 10, so close to his death, is Human Rights Day. Maybe the better question is, how cruel is that?

Many mourned for Ericson when they heard the news.

While deaths are not new to activists and revolutionaries, it never gets easy – maybe because meaningful deaths always carry so much weight.

According to the military, he and peasant organizer Joseph Jimenez, were caught in between a gun fight with the NPA.

However, NDF-Negros said that both were stabbed and hacked. NDF-Negros spokesperson Bayani Obrero also said they were forcefully taken from the house they were staying in before being ‘salvaged.’

Ericson Acosta was many things to different people – a father, a husband, a son, a friend, an activist, a cultural worker.

But everyone says he’s an artist, a musician and a writer. Everywhere he went, whatever he did, he made art.

When he became a political prisoner, he continued to write songs and called them Prison Sessions. He also wrote poems and essays in a journal called Jailhouse Blog.

According to Kerima, his wife, Ericson’s artistic and political awakening came when he was in grade school during PETA workshops.

However, he was fully transformed from a “troublesome artist” to a “serious activist” after the student movement split in the ‘90s.

As a couple, they went to the countryside to dedicate their lives and skills to the masses. Kerima said that he took the call to learn from the masses seriously.

He brought his art with him. His poems and songs are scattered in the places he’s gone, in the communities he’s met.

As Tonyo Cruz said, “He often sang and wrote or recited poetry about them and for them [farmers and farm workers].”

Ericson, as poet, was an agitator for social justice. He was a revolutionary.

When we come to think of it, many artists become revolutionaries.

Eventually, they end up making art about things that are bigger than they are.

And even more, they begin to do more than creating art as Ericson eventually found himself among farmers in the countryside.

He found himself struggling for social justice with those who need it the most.

I like to think artists find themselves in this path because of the depth and intensity of their love for others. Their imagination and creativity allow them to envision a better world.

Andres Bonifacio, Amado Hernandez, and Eman Lacaba were also agitators for social justice.

For one, Andres Bonifacio himself was a theater actor and poet as well as he was a revolutionary leader.

His known poems are also filled with his love for Filipinos and the country, and his anger for the colonizers.

Some examples are the renowned “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa,” “Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog,” and “Katapusang Hibik ng Pilipinas.”

He also found the myth of Bernardo Carpio enchanting and used it as a parallel for the Katipuneros as they envisioned how they would free the Philippines.

Another example is Amado Hernandez who was also a revolutionary writer.

He was awarded as a National Artist for Literature.

He believed that a writer’s purpose is to be the conscience of society and he did this to the best of his ability.

He was a poet, a playwright, and a novelist who spoke of the social injustices in the Philippines – one of his important works being “Mga Ibong Mandaragit.”

According to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, this novel was “the first Filipino socio-political novel that expose[d] the ills of the society as evident in the agrarian problems of the 50s.”

There is also Eman Lacaba, also a writer – a poet, a playwright, an essayist – eventually deciding to go to the countryside to become a guerilla.

He is sometimes referred to as the “poet warrior.”

In fact, his most popular poem is titled “An open letter to Filipino Artists.”

“We are tribeless and all tribes are ours./ We are homeless and all homes are ours./ We are nameless and all names are ours./ To the fascists we are the faceless enemy/ Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death: The ever moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.”

I supposed Ericson and Kerima named their son Emman to honor Lacaba. I did the same for my eldest son.

Artists love deeply, and so when they find themselves amongst the masses, the masses inevitably become their muse. Suddenly, creating means so much more. Writing means so much more.

Ericson Acosta will be remembered and loved beyond his death.

Like Andres Bonifacio.

Like Amado Hernandez.

Like Eman Lacaba.

From Ericson’s poem “Alab Ng Pluma,” “‘Pagkat mamatay ma’t mawala / ang isang makata, / libu-libong tulog na diwa na / ang ginising ng kanyang tula.” (“In death, the poet — thousands of ideas are woken by his poems.)

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