Three-month-old baby dies without reuniting with political prisoner mom

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Three-month-old baby dies without reuniting with political prisoner mom
This photo taken June 16, 2020 shows Marites Asis, mother of detainee Reina Mae Asis Nasino, calling for the release of her then-pregnant daughter.
KAPATID / release

MANILA, Philippines — Three-month-old baby River passed away in the special care unit of a Manila hospital on Friday night, away from her political prisoner mother, Reina Mae Nasino, who is detained at the Manila City Jail.

Baby River passed away at 8:50 p.m. on October 9, more than two weeks since she was brought to the hospital, Kapatid, a support group for political prisoners, said.

River died of acute respiratory distress syndrome according to the medical report, Kapatid added.

She was separated from her mother in August, whe she was just a month old.

Nasino and her lawyers implored Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 20 Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali to allow her stay at the hospital or the prison nursery with River until she turns a year old.

But Umali junked their motion and said River should “be turned over to her father or an relative, who could take care of her better.”

Reina Mae’s lawyers tried again and filed an appeal, but the court stood firm. It gave weight to the letter submitted by the officer-in-charge of the Manila City Jail Dormitory that said that they have no facility for use as a nursery for newborn babies.

Diarrhea, fever in September

More than a month after the court junked their appeal, Baby River was rushed to the hospital on September 24 due to diarrhea and fever. She was later diagnosed with pneumonia.

Baby River had been staying in the hospital since.

On Friday, Nasino’s lawyers filed a Very Urgent Motion for Furlough before Manila RTC Branch 37 "so that she may be with her baby during her last days."

But Baby River passed away hours later.

SC petition

When Nasino was seven-months pregnant, she ran to the highest court of the land for her temporary release: On April 8, she and 21 other political prisoners who are at risk of contracting COVID-19, through their representatives, sought temporary release on humanitarian grounds.

Their petition was pending before the SC for five months, only for it to be remanded to lower courts, which Kapatid noted, meant yet another long wait for the prisoners.

Nasino gave birth during their five-month wait for the SC to act on the petition.

RELATED: With SC yet to resolve pleas, a political prisoner gives birth while ABS-CBN faces another CDO

Nasino's arrest

Reina Mae was arrested late 2019. She is one of the activists arrested by police on the strength of a search warrant issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.

More than 60 activists were arrested in the implementation of the warrant: 57 were members of various progressive groups and were nabbed in Negros on October 31. 

Nasino, who is part of urban poor group Kadamay, was one of the activists arrested in a raid on an office of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in Manila.

Alternative media website Manila Today reported that activists slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 70, which institutionalizes a “whole-of-nation approach” to end the communist insurgency—the directive that the Commission on Human Rights flagged for being used to justify continued attacks on human rights defenders and activists.

Rights group Karapatan said Burgos-Villavert’s search warrant “enabled the arbitrary arrest and planting of evidence against activists.”

After news broke of the mass arrests, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta reminded court judges to be more prudent in issuing arrest warrants.

Court Administrator Midas Marquez however noted that Villavert as well as other executive judges in Manila and Quezon City, are authorized to issue search warrants that may be implemented across the country, “in certain instances and provided that the legal requirements are met.”

Marquez was referring to Circular A.M. No. 03-8-02-SC, issued in 2004. Part of the circular states that executive judges and vice-executive judges of Manila and Quezon City regional trial courts have the authority to act on applications filed by the National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine National Police for search warrants.

In a press conference on November 8, Peralta backed Villavert and said the judge “followed all the rules.”

"The issuance of a search warrant should be done confidentially, it cannot be done openly, that's why when you apply for a search warrant, the judge will conduct the hearing inside [their] chamber so that nobody will hear," said the chief justice.

Cries for justice

National Union of Peoples Lawyers Edre Olalia lamented the death of Baby River. “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 pain and the rage. We will lose our humanity if we see more Baby River again,” he added.

Kapatid meanwhile minced no words and said the courts and the government of President Rodrigo Duterte are responsible for the tragic demise of Baby River.

“The courts and this government bear responsibility for the chain of tragic events that have transpired from the time that Reina Mae was arrested on manufactured charges of illegal possession of firearms to the time she joined 21 other political prisoners in filing a petition at the Supreme Court for the humanitarian release of the sick and elderly, including pregnant prisoners like herself,” Kapatid said.

It added: “Free Reina Mae. Do it as an act of atonement and justice and moral courage.”

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