Police cut short, speed up funeral procession for Baby River

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Police cut short, speed up funeral procession for Baby River
Kapatid, a support and advocacy group for political prisoners, said some 20 police officers stood outside the funeral home on the morning of Baby River's burial.
KAPATID / release

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:50 p.m.) — Police "hijacked" the funeral procession of Baby River, the 3-month-old daughter of jailed activist Reina Mae Nasino on Friday afternoon after deploying at least 20 officers to the funeral home where the child's remains were, Kapatid, an advocacy group for political detainees, said.

From the La Funeraria Rey in Pandacan, Manila, mourners had planned to pass in front of the Supreme Court before heading to Manila North Cemetery, but police escorts took Baby River's remains straight to the cemetery.

In a statement tweeted by The STAR, Police Col. Ysmael Yu, spokesperson for the Philippine National Police, said authorities were only trying to protect the baby's remains. "It is the subject we are protecting. Those externals have no accountability if things go wrong," The STAR quotes Yu as saying.

"Where have you seen police taking control of a funeral? This is a day to bury a child whom the state deprived of a chance (to live)," Kapatid said in Filipino. 

"This is a burial, it should the family whose wishes are followed," the group also said, stressing the Manila Police District "the police have no right to dictate on how this is done and even less right to take the remains of a baby we are mourning."

The group said that they and the family had wanted to start the procession at 11:30 a.m. but police had insisted that it start at 1 p.m. — the time that Nasino's three-hour furlough from the Manila City Jail would start.

The police relented after Marites Asis — Nasino's mother and River's grandmother — begged them on her knees to let the family bring the coffin down from the viewing room at La Funeraria Rey.

"When the coffin was brought outside and the family walked behind it, [with us] supporters, the funeral car suddenly sped up leaving us all behind," Kapatid said, adding those who joined the procession on foot had to run to keep up. 

"But we couldn’t catch up. We were separated."

Police Col. Yu said "the execution on security is appropriate considering crowd control."

DILG: No overkill in sending police contingent

At a press briefing earlier Monday morning, an official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government  justified the deployment of at least 20 police officers to the funeral parlor for the procession.

Police prescence was “anticipative” of a crowd for the burial on Friday to enforce physical distancing and not overkill, he said.

DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III, in a Laging Handa briefing, said that since the situation involves a major public issue, “we needed to augment a little our regular security given on such situations.”

On the morning of Baby River’s burial, Kapatid said that around 20 cops were guarding outside the funeral home. They also initially barred Fides Lim, the group’s spokesperson, from entering.

Reports on the ground also said that the police prohibited supporters from displaying their placards that call for justice for Baby River.

Meanwhile, at the Manila North Cemetery where Baby River will be buried in the afternoon, more than 20 cops were also gathered at the gates. These police officers are different from the cops who will join the funeral march, Kapatid said.

Densing explained that the deployment of the police officers is also to “ensure that health protocols are being followed.”

“Because this is a slightly major issue that has been talked about in the past days, we anticipated that this will draw crowds, so the security arrangement is just proper because of the issues at hand,” he added.

“This is not overkill. It’s more of anticipative rather than overkill,” Densing said.

DILG blames ‘leftist’ groups

In a separate statement, DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya menwhile said that “leftist” groups are to blame when tension arose between the jail guards and Nasino’s family and lawyers last Wednesday.

News5 quoted Malaya as saying that the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology jail officers that escorted Nasino “were insulted, harassed and verbally abused by Leftist groups aligned with Ms. Nasino.”

“Truth be told, it was the Leftist groups who caused the tension during the wake when they suddenly vented their ire on BJMP officers who were just doing their jobs,” he added.

In the manifestation filed by Nasino’s lawyers before the Manila court, they recounted that Nasino was in handcuffs when she visited the wake, except for a few minutes.

Police and jail officers also did not observe physical distancing and closely flanked Nasino, already in handcuffs, who could not confer with her family or lawyers.

Her guards also tried to whisk her away even if she still had over an hour in the three-hour furlough for Wednesday.

“This overkill on the part of the BJMP and PNP personnel destroyed the solemnity of the funeral, depriving the movant of her chance to properly mourn for her dead child. It also constitutes cruel and inhumane treatment to which no person deprived of liberty should be subjected,” the lawyers said.

The funeral march for Baby River started past 11 in the morning, while Nasino will be brought out of the Manila City Jail at 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. for the burial at the Manila North Cemetery.

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