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With Due Respect

Lessons from River

The public outrage at the perceived (to quote the Inquirer editorial on Oct. 29) “egregious failure of the justice system that led to the death of baby River Nasino after she was separated from her mother” should teach us to listen to, and take lessons from, the cries of the poor and the powerless. How?

First, let us go to our most basic law, the Constitution. Its Bill of Rights (Art. III, Sec. 13) lays down this hallowed rule: Everyone has a right to bail except those charged (1) with capital offenses (2) when the evidence of guilt is strong.

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Second, this constitutional provision is repeated in negative terms by Sec. 7, Rule 114 of the Rules of Court: “No person charged with a capital offense, or an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, shall be admitted to bail when evidence of guilt is strong…”

Third, the question of whether or not “the evidence of guilt is strong” is a factual matter that lies initially within the sound discretion of the trial court; such discretion shall be exercised only after the said court (1) sets for hearing the petition for bail of the accused; (2) gives the prosecution a notice of the hearing and an opportunity to present its evidence; (3) grants the accused the chance to counter such evidence; and (4) conducts the hearing summarily to determine whether bail shall be granted, not whether the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

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Fourth, the intent of the law is to assure the appearance of the accused during the trial and at the rendition of the judgment, and to minimize the risk of flight.

Fifth, Enrile v. Sandiganbayan (Aug. 18, 2015) ruled that bail may also be granted due to “special humanitarian grounds,” like advanced age (91 at the time), ill health (“uncontrolled hypertension, arrhythmia, coronary calcification and exacerbations of ACOS”), “social and political standing” and “immediate surrender to the authorities.”

Based on these guidelines, I think the Supreme Court correctly remanded the matter to the trial court. However, with due respect, it took too unreasonably long to act. Though River’s mother, Reina Mae Nasino, filed her petition in April, the Court acted only on July 28 and announced its action only on Sept. 10. It should have immediately dismissed the facially defective petition outright (per my 9/27/20 column, “Dismissed on short shrift”).

Part of the fault, I believe, lies also with Nasino’s lawyers who went to the Supreme Court too soon. They should have just insisted on the trial court to set for hearing their motion for bail; and should have gone to the high court only to contest the trial court’s ruling denying their motion, if rendered with grave abuse of discretion.

Acting on the remand, the trial court, I believe, was unduly strict in responding, as it mindlessly denied the petition for hospital stay and needlessly separated the baby from her detained mother, to quote again the Inquirer editorial, “to tragic results.”

Looking back, could the trial court have applied the “humanitarian grounds” invoked by the Supreme Court in granting bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile? In other words, could the trial court (and the Supreme Court, on appeal) have granted bail to the mother to give her the opportunity to tend to her baby?

Strictly speaking, the answer is “No” because the “humanitarian grounds” in Enrile referred to the accused while the grounds invoked in Nasino referred to the baby, not to the mother.

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Nonetheless, I agree with the liberal approach advanced by Naga RTC Judge Soliman M. Santos Jr. who, in his email to me, opined that by analogy, bail could have been granted to Nasino by applying Art. 3 of the 1989 “Convention on the Rights of the Child” which provides: “In all actions concerning children… undertaken by… courts of law…, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

Our law to implement this international pact, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, defines “the best interest of the child” as “…the totality of circumstances and conditions which are most congenial to the survival, protection and feelings of security of the child and most encouraging to the child’s physical, psychological and emotional development.”

To close, I hope the Supreme Court and/or Congress will respond to the public outrage by studying and possibly codifying new rules and/or new laws to protect the unborn and the young children of detained mothers.

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TAGS: Artemio V. Panganiban, Reina Mae Nasino, River Nasino, Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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