Reader, I can’t get Reina Nasino out of my mind. She is only 23 years old. I read her curriculum vitae, which is impressive. She was a student leader while at the Eulogio Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology, where she was taking a vocational course under their Special Opportunity program. She became an activist and a community organizer, and worked in Smokey Mountain and other urban poor communities like Tondo and Baseco.
I find that concern for the poor praiseworthy. Coming from the poor herself—her mother and two siblings lived in Pandacan, where her mother was a barangay police officer—she knows what it is all about. And her activism is normal for her age. I remember the late and great columnist Teddy Benigno (who used to be an activist himself) quoting to me something very similar to what the author and philanthropist Sudha Murty said: “At twenty, if you are not an idealist, then you don’t have a heart. And if you continue being an idealist at forty, then you don’t have a brain.” Clearly, Reina has a heart. And she is in jail for it.
The charge against her, possession of firearms and explosives, is so obviously trumped up. Why do I say that? (1) Well, it was in the Manila office of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in Tondo where those firearms/explosives were found. That’s where Reina was also living in. Now, Reader, do you really think that Bayan, with the likes of Neri Colmenares, Carlos Zarate, Teddy Casiño, Satur Ocampo, not to mention Liza Maza and Luz Ilagan representing them at one time or another in Congress, would be so stupid as to keep explosives and firearms in their office?
And (2), as I mentioned in last week’s column, how come those police officers who had come to search did not wear any body cams at all, and not only that, forced Reina and her companions to lie face down on the floor, so they could not see what was going on? Body cams would have resolved the question categorically.
This happened in November 2019, mind you. And Reina has been in detention since then. I found out that at first she was in the CIDG detention center in Camp Crame, but when it was learned that she was pregnant, the police transferred her to the Manila City Jail (Old Bilibid). That was almost literally a death sentence for her (at least a death sentence for River). Compared to the the hell that the Manila City Jail is, the CIDG detention center stands out as “heaven.” It was after that transfer that her problems were multiplied and exacerbated. Who was the heartless person who ordered her transferred? That is what we should find out. He/she should be held accountable.
Now let me tell you, Reader, why I call the Manila City Jail a hell. It is reputed to be the worst jail in the Philippines in terms of the number of its prison population (although I should think the Quezon City Jail may compete for that title) relative to jail capacity. And our country, the Philippines, has the unenviable position of being the world’s No. 2, next to the Republic of the Congo—a far second, thank heavens—in terms of occupancy level (based on official capacity). Haiti is No. 3. This, according to the World Prison Brief, Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research. The latest data.
Not only that. Most of our detainees (more than three out of four) are pretrial or remand prisoners—waiting for their trial, not convicted prisoners. That may give us an idea of how slow our justice system is. The Philippines ranks 7th in the whole world (217 areas).
But not all is bad news. It might give you, Reader, some comfort to know that in terms of prison population rate (per 100,000 of population), our country ranks only 71st, although our population rate has been increasing. And in 2018, we held the record as the country with the most overcrowded prison population.
So take comfort in that. But in the meantime, I appeal to the powers that be, all the way up to President Duterte—after all, he has been made the final decision-maker in all matters, it seems: Release Reina. If not because she’s innocent, then because her heart is in the right place (helping the poor), and because she has so much to give to this country.
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