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What did we do to River and her mother?

The case of Reina Nasino and her baby River has placed the Philippine justice system, nay, Philippine society as a whole, under trial by public opinion. And the verdict, it seems, is that both have failed.

Public opinion is right on. It could use as reference Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an anti-Nazi German Protestant theologist who was executed in a German concentration camp in April 1945, who said, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” What did we do to River?

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But public opinion does not have to go that far back in time. It can bring in Nelson Mandela to support its verdict:

On prisoners—remember that he was a political prisoner for 27 years—he said, “The way that a society treats its prisoners is one of the sharpest reflections of its character.” He also stated, “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” How did we treat prisoner Reina?

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On children: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children,” or “The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.”

My contribution to this conversation has to do with the circumstances before Reina’s imprisonment and comes from something that I overheard one of Reina’s lawyers saying in an interview, quoting from Reina: that when the police came to serve the search warrant, Reina and her two companions were made to lie on the floor face down, and voila—not quite voila, but after an hour, “firearms and explosives” were found. Thus, the three were arrested and jailed. Apparently, possession of the above is a nonbailable offense.

Reina and her companions say these must have been planted. Police say otherwise. It is a she-said-he-said situation. So the questions almost ask themselves: (1) Why were Reina and companions made to lie on the floor? Why not just have them sit down, or bring them out if the place was too small? They hadn’t been arrested or anything. And (2) Why didn’t the police wear body cameras (as has been promised so many times by this government) so that they could not be accused of planting evidence? That would resolve the he-said-she-said problem. Hard evidence instead of police stories.

But what gets me is that apparently, this is SOP for these kinds of cases—the planting of evidence. At least that’s what I got from other lawyers’ discussions, who took for granted this SOP. Can you see, Reader, how easy it is for the authorities to put someone in jail, and for a nonbailable offense to be conjured? Picture this: A girl in her early 20s, and two companions equally youthful, who were so poor that they lived in the office, collecting expensive firearms and explosives and hiding these where they lived. Really? For use where? In Metro Manila? The story strains credulity. And yet the prosecutors and the judges so easily bought it. Let us continue the story. The police, on the basis of “evidence” that they could have planted, put Reina in jail—an overcrowded one at that (which is the norm), in a room that should have at most 40 but have 80 people. Another question: Why are they so eager to put people in jail, when there is literally no space? This, by the way, is one of the targets of the Philippine Development Plan that nobody seems to have complied with.

Anyway, Reina finds out she is pregnant, and throughout that pregnancy, she is seen only once by a doctor, and is given no pregnancy supplements. But when she asks to be released on compassionate grounds, she is turned down again and again. She asks that her baby be allowed in her care. The judge turns down her request, because the jailers say they don’t have the resources, or facilities, to accommodate them. The jail authorities cannot afford to keep her, but they will not let her go. Question: Why not release her in the first place? What threat to society could this 23-year-old pregnant woman and new mother possibly have represented?

So the collective decision was to keep her in jail (probably on trumped-up charges). Never mind the consequences to her health, and to her baby’s life. To top it all, that scene at River’s wake, where there were more guards than mourners.

That’s how we treat our children. That’s how we treat our prisoners. Shame.

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TAGS: Activist, Baby River, human rights, Nasino, Police, Reina Nasino
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