Timeline of cruelty
Three-month-old baby River Nasino’s tragic story of dying after having been forcibly separated from the arms of her incarcerated mother has our failed justice system written all over it. However one looked at it, the timeline leading to her needless, untimely demise is marked by the gross indifference, injustice, and cruelty of a dysfunctional state.
November 2019. Some 62 activists were arrested in Metro Manila and Bacolod on the strength of different warrants issued by a single judge — Judge Cecilyn Burgos Villavert of Regional Trial Court Branch 89 of Quezon City. Among those detained were Kadamay urban poor organizer Reina Mae Nasino and two others, after police raided the office of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in Tondo, Manila on Nov. 5, 2019. Nasino, 23, was already pregnant.
They were charged with the nonbailable offense of possession of firearms and explosives, a claim Karapatan said was a “preposterous and barefaced lie’’ to justify the crackdown on political activists.
Nasino’s lawyer Maria Sol Taule said the arrest of her client was “first and foremost illegal’’ and that the search warrant was “marred with irregularities.’’ Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta defended the issuance of the search warrants by the Quezon City judge in areas outside of her jurisdiction.
April 8, 2020. Twenty-two political prisoners, including Nasino, filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking to be temporarily released for humanitarian reasons on account of the coronavirus pandemic, which by then has broken out in the severely congested prisons.
It took the high court five months to make a decision: Petition denied. By June, as the pandemic was raging, the Supreme Court had yet to tackle the petition to release sick, elderly, and pregnant detainees, all at greater risk of COVID-19, as the justice in charge was reportedly stuck in the Visayas. The prisoners appealed to be released on recognizance, the way former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, detained for the nonbailable charge of plunder, was allowed by the Supreme Court to post bail in 2015.
July 1. Nasino gave birth to River, underweight at just 5.5 lb, at the Dr. Fabella Memorial Hospital. The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) petitioned the Manila RTC to allow her to remain in the hospital and later in the Manila City Jail for a year to take care of River, citing the child’s basic right to be breastfed by her mother.
July 20 and 30. Judge Marivic Balisi Umali of Manila RTC Branch 20 denied the petition and appeal, citing the jail’s “very limited resources’’ to care for Nasino and her daughter. Allowing them to stay in the hospital would also cost the government “too much money,’’ the judge said. Nasino’s petition to be allowed to express breastmilk and be given access to clean lactation facilities were for naught. Manila City Jail Female Dorm Warden OIC Chief Insp. Ma. Ignacia Monteron said there were no facilities for childcare at the jail.
Aug. 23. Upon the court’s order, River, not yet two months old, was separated from her weeping mother and given under the care of her grandmother Marites Asis.
Sept. 10. A Supreme Court ruling on Nasino et al.’s petition for temporary release was supposedly made on July 28 but made public only on this day. The Supreme Court left the matter for the trial courts to decide, even as the high court had ordered the release of 15,000 other prisoners during the pandemic.
Sept. 24. River was taken to the intensive care unit of the Philippine General Hospital for diarrhea and fever while her mother remained locked up in the Manila City Jail.
Oct. 9. Before 5 p.m., the NUPL filed an urgent motion for furlough to allow Reina to visit River after her doctor reported that her lungs were quickly deteriorating due to bacterial infection. “With respect, the honorable court is urged to extend the kindness and compassion that (Reina) and her baby were denied when they were precipitately separated from each other and deprived of their basic right to breastfeed,’’ the NUPL said.
Groups launched an online petition calling on even Manila RTC Branch 37 Executive Judge Virgilio Macaraig to act on the urgent motion. Time was of the essence. River lay dying in an ICU alone. It was a Friday.
At 8:50 p.m. of that day came the news: River was gone—just 3 months old, denied of her right to live, to be nourished and cared for by her mother (who has yet to be tried and convicted of any crime) by the mighty Philippine justice system, the same system that was quick to find compassion for the likes of Enrile and Imelda Marcos.
“No words could ever capture this human tragedy,” mourned NUPL president Edre Olalia. “Heartbreaking does not even come close to it. What kind of justice system, nay society do we have to let this inhumanity and injustice to mother and child happen? We have not only lost our hearts, we have lost our souls if we do not feel the rage.’’
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