MANILA - The spokesperson of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is entitled to her personal opinions, Malacañang said Monday, after the official drew public ire for saying that a jailed activist deserved tight security during her baby's funeral.
MMDA Celine Pialago's comment is not related to her duty in the agency, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
"Hayaan po natin na magkaroon ng personal na opinyon si Spokesperson Pialago," he told reporters.
(Let us allow Spokesperson Pialago to have a personal opinion.)
Pialago on Sunday criticized the sympathizers of Reina Mae Nasino, whose photos during her baby's heavily guarded funeral last Friday went viral online.
"Masyado ninyong ginagawang pang drama serye sa hapon ang paghihinagpis niya. Tigilan niyo!," Pialago wrote on her social media account.
On Monday, Pialago apologized for using the phrase "drama serye (series)" in referring to sympathizers of Nasino and her 3-month-old-baby, but not for saying that the activist deserved to be surrounded by dozens of armed guards as she laid her daughter to rest.
Heavily armed prison officials guarding Nasino refused to uncuff her during the burial rites despite pleas from her family and human rights supporters, who have decried what they described as inhumane treatment of Nasino and other mothers in Philippine jails.
"We were denied the chance to be together. I did not even see your laughter," said the 23-year-old Nasino, who was seen crying in front of her daughter River's tiny white coffin.
A local court granted Nasino a 3-day furlough to attend the wake and funeral of her daughter.
Nasino, a member of the urban poverty group Kadamay, was arrested in November 2019 with 2 others for alleged unlawful possession of firearms - charges she said were trumped up and part of a crackdown against left-leaning activists.
In April, she petitioned the Supreme Court to release her from jail on humanitarian grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nasino gave birth while in jail in July, but her baby was removed from her care and brought to her mother in August. The following month, her baby became sick and was hospitalized, prompting calls for mother and child to be reunited.
Wearing a full-body personal protective equipment suit while standing in the heat of the sun, Nasino had told her baby: "I hope we will be the last to experience this."
The solemn occasion last Friday turned chaotic as police officers in camouflage uniforms dispersed the funeral procession and told the hearse carrying the coffin to speed up, forcing mourners to run after the vehicle.
"I thought we would have a proper burial with family and friends, but I was traumatized. My other daughter nearly fainted while chasing the car," said Nasino's mother, Marites.
"I am so angry that we could not even give my grandchild a proper procession and we could not even play the music she liked."
President Rodrigo Duterte does not micromanage and Malacañang respects the call of the commander on the ground for Nasino's security, said Roque.
With a report from Reuters