MANILA, Philippines — On Wednesday morning, detained activist Reina Mae Nasino, a 23-year-old first-time mom, was supposed to be brought to the funeral home where the remains of her three-month old daughter lie.
The court had ordered Baby River separated from her a month after she gave birth and she had not seen her child since. She had never seen her child alive again.
Nasino remained behind bars, at least until noon. Her lawyers found themselves back at the same Manila court that earlier gave them a three-day continous furlough. This time, to plead for it not to take back its previous order and to dismiss the Manila City Jail Female Dormitory warden’s request to reduce Nasino’s furlough.
Prison officials on Tuesday wrote the court and said they lack personnel to accompany Nasino at the wake, a condition for her furlough. Jail Chief Inspector Maria Ignacia Monteron said that they share the sadness of losing Baby River and sympathize with the grieving mother “but we cannot compromise the security and safety of other PDL (Persons Deprived of Liberty) who are still seeking for our assistance.”
During the court hearing, the reasons to oppose Nasino’s furlough expanded: Prison officials said there is a pandemic and they fear Nasino “will bring something back” to her detention cell. Even her supposed status as a “high-profile prisoner” was raised against her.
Nasino has been in the news because of Baby River’s death last Friday but her case was only rarely covered before that.
In the end, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 47 Judge Paulino Gallegos amended his earlier order and allowed Nasino only six hours to be with her daughter: Three hours on Wednesday to attend her wake, and another three hours to lay River to rest.
Prison officials only wanted to give Nasino three hours
Lawyer Maria Sol Taule, Nasino’s counsel, recounted that they, voices breaking, begged the indulgence of the court to allow Nasino to attend the wake and burial of River. “BJMP opposed, they only wanted three hours for Reina Mae to grieve her dead child. Sobrang nakakagalit (It is so infuriating),” she said.
Hard to argue in court with our voices breaking as we beg indulgence of the court to allow Reina Mae to attend wake and burial of her child. BJMP opposed, they only wanted 3 hours for Reina Mae to grieve for her dead child. Sobrang nakakagalit.
— Maria Sol Taule (@soltaule) October 14, 2020
Lawyer Kathy Panguban, also Nasino’s counsel, argued for the presumption of her client’s innocence, citing the trial for the illegal possession of firearms and explosive case against her is still ongpoing.
“They invoked the pandemic, the trumped-up charges against our client as reason para mabawasan yung panahon nya para magluksa, kasama yung bangkay ng anak nya (to cut down her time to be with her child and to grieve),” Panguban said.
Taule and Panguban, of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers, last Friday made a last bid to allow Nasino to be with her daughter who was then in dying hours.
The motion was filed in the late afternoon, and River died a few hours later.
‘Gross injustice, heartless’
Kapatid, a support and advocacy group for political prisoners, slammed this as “gross injustice and heartless.”
The group recalled how the same prison officials blocked Nasino’s bid to take care of her child after birth, also citing their “depleted” manpower and lack of facility to the local court, “when in fact, it is the responsibility of the government to provide such facilities.”
“Now, a mere warden can thwart a court order, invoking the same reasons of lack of personnel and so-called health concerns. With all that Reina Mae has been through, that court order of three days is not even enough consolation,” Kapatid said.
A photo sent by the group to the media on Wednesday morning show two police officers standing guard outside the funeral home where River lies. They said that while other cops were on “Oplan Sita” — a checkpoint operation where police flag down and inspect motorcycles and their riders — two stood guard outside the building.
This is the situation outside the funeral home where Baby River’s remains lie. Reina Mae Nasino will be brought here in the afternoon.
— Philstar.com (@PhilstarNews) October 14, 2020
Furloughs OK for big names
Kapatid pointed out that the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology had no problem giving privileges to “big names in politics” to attend their family events, through furloughs, even when they were in detention.
“If the government, through the BJMP, was able to give big names in politics the privileges to be at their respective family events, the same efforts should be given to Reina Mae,” it said.
Rights alliance Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay also slammed the “appalling cold-heartedness” of the prison officials. “They are killing Baby River over and over!”
Palabay noted that law breakers and human rights violators remain scot-free, while political prisoners detained on what they claim are trumped up charges “have to go through the eye of the needle for their humanitarian pleas with the legal maneuvers” to ensure that they remain behind bars.
‘Courts failed Nasino’
Nasino knocked on the gates of the courts twice: Before the local courts, she asked to be breastfeed and be with River for at least a year; before the Supreme Court, she and 22 other political prisoners who are at-risk of contracting COVID-19 inside our cramped jails sought temporary release on humanitarian grounds.
Both efforts failed to get favorable ruling from the courts.
Kapatid said: “Has the justice system in the country sunk so low that there is a different standard between Very Important Prisoners and little people who are political prisoners?”
“Being an activist does not make Reina Mae less of a human being. It does not even negate her rights as a person. She deserves to stay at her child’s side until burial. Equity and compassion, simple humanity, should be standard to all,” it added.
Karapatan’s Palabay meanwhile said that the court “failed to uphold humanity and compassion for a grieving mother and her dead child.”
NUPL President Edre Olalia also said the sympathy and compassion of jail officials “given in trickles and crumbs” only meant to “satisfy guilty conscience and is more of damage control to appease the broad public calls for humanity than a sign of genuine empathy.”
Olalia said they will watch closely prison officials when they roll out red carpet for those who “who feel they have more rights and entitlements because they grieve differently than ordinary people who are not favoured.”
“There are different laws in the universe after all,” Olalia added.