Presumption of innocence
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - October 20, 2020 - 12:00am

The media and some cause-oriented groups have played their part in highlighting the issue surrounding the case of Reina Mae Nasino, the detained mother of a three-month old baby named River, who died on October 9 while separated from Nasino.

Regardless of how she is viewed by state agents as an enemy of the republic, Nasino deserves the constitutional presumption of innocence until she is proven guilty. Generally, an accused person like her should be allowed to post bail and regain her freedom, at least temporarily, until her conviction in which case she shall serve jail time, or until her acquittal in which case she should be left alone.

I say generally because under the constitution and the rules of court, bail is a matter of right (a) before or after conviction by the Metropolitan Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, or Municipal Circuit Trial Courts, and (b) before conviction by the Regional Trial Courts of an offense not punishable by death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment. It becomes a matter of discretion on the part of the trial court, regardless of the stage of the criminal prosecution, when the evidence of guilt is not strong. Bail cannot be availed of if the accused is charged with a capital offense and the evidence of guilt is strong.

However, in a line of cases decided by the Supreme Court, foremost of which is the case of Enrile v. Sandiganbayan (July 12, 2016), other factors, such as health and propensity for flight, were taken into consideration when it comes to the grant of bail.

Nasino along with two others were arrested last November 2019 at the Bayan office in Tondo, Manila. Police entered the office on the basis of a search warrant looking for unlicensed firearms and explosives. Police told prosecutors they found firearms and a hand grenade in the office, but Nasino’s lawyers point to evidence that these were planted.

While both sides are arguing in court about the strength or weakness of the prosecution’s evidence, Nasino found out that she was already pregnant at the time of her arrest. She later gave birth to River. Nasino was able to breastfeed the underweight River for a month while in detention until jail officials decided there was no room in the detention center (literally and figuratively) for nursing mother, presumed innocent under the law, and her child, innocent under any circumstance.

The baby caught an illness and died two months after her separation from her mother. Nasino was allowed by the court to visit the wake of her child for three hours, and attend the latter’s burial for another three hours. For close to a total of six hours Nasino was handcuffed and wrapped in a protective gear, surrounded by more than 20 heavily armed guards. She shed tears she could not wipe. How can a 23-year old female detainee, presumed innocent until proven otherwise, be so heavily shackled and guarded?

Beyond the tragedy, Nasino’s case is a telling indictment of our criminal justice system, particularly on our treatment of detainees and on their right to bail.

Regardless of what the law says on paper as regards the accused’s interest in pretrial liberty and society’s interest in assuring the accused’s presence at trial, a confluence of factors is leading us to tragic situations like Nasino’s, among these our overburdened courts, our overcrowded jails, and our legal system’s positivist interpretation on the law on bail which overemphasizes the text of even such fundamental law as the constitution. (To be continued)

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