MANILA — It took no less than Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to defend the Supreme Court from criticisms it did not do enough to prevent the eventual death of a three-month-old baby separated from her detained mother.
“Hindi naman kami nagpabaya. We tried to help her eh,” Peralta told reporters at an online press conference Friday.
Baby River Emmanuelle Nasino was born on July 1 while her mother Reina Mae Nasino was (and still is) under detention, facing illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges following her arrest in November 2019 as part of a massive crackdown against the Left and left-leaning groups.
Baby River was separated from her mother on August 13 and died on October 9 due to pneumonia while under the care of her grandmother. She was laid to rest under heavy security last week.
Human rights groups have blamed the Supreme Court’s inaction over the plea of Nasino and 21 other petitioners to release sick and elderly detainees vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus inside crowded jails.
The petition was filed in April, while Nasino was 3 months away from giving birth.
All 15 SC magistrates voted on July 28 to treat the petition as a petition for bail or recognizance, leaving it to trial courts to determine if the petitioners are individually entitled to post bail.
Since most are facing non-bailable charges, this requires hearings to look into whether the evidence against them is not strong to qualify them to post bail.
Peralta told reporters Friday that “as early as July 28,” SC announced the decision, which he said should have given the signal that the petition was not given due course because of factual issues.
However, the result of the SC vote was not actually announced by the Supreme Court Public Information Office until September 10 or more than a month after.
Nasino’s lawyers did not receive a full copy of the decision until October 9, the same day River died.
The main decision was only 9 pages long but 8 magistrates issued separate opinions collectively reaching almost 300 pages to argue varying positions on a number of issues such as whether the SC ruling allowing former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to post bail on humanitarian grounds could be applied to political prisoners-petitioners and whether the United Nations minimum standards for treatment of prisoners or the Nelson Mandela Rules could apply in the Philippines.
“Pinaghintay niyo kami at binigo. You made us wait but you failed us,” said Fides Lim, spokesperson of KAPATID, a group of supporters of families and friends of political prisoners, in response to the SC ruling.
Rights groups alliance Karapatan was more blunt in pinning the blame.
“Baby River’s death is on the Duterte government: from the Philippine National Police led by National Capital Region Regional Police Office chief Debold Sinas that arrested Reina Mae and her companions based on bogus search warrants issued by Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert and planted evidence, the courts that repeatedly refused to listen to the pleas of a suffering mother, the jail officials who shamelessly sought to reduce her furlough — her only chance to be with Baby River — using stupid and bogus alibis and blatantly disrespected her right to properly grieve during the wake of her own dead child by repeatedly trying to take her away in the middle of media interviews hours before the allotted time for her furlough have even ended,” it said in a statement released just before River’s burial.
BAYAN Secretary General Renato Reyes, Jr. echoed this view.
“The courts also failed to protect the rights of the arrested activists and political prisoners. Form the lower courts to the Supreme Court, they have failed to act when it mattered most. They could have issued a resolution favoring the most vulnerable political prisoners but they did not,” he said.
But Peralta on Tuesday sought to deflect the blame cast on the courts.
“Kung meron lang sanang power ang SC to go against the Constitutional prohibition na hindi pwedeng mag-bail kung capital punishment ‘yan. Kung nilagay ‘yan na they can be released if the evidence of guilt is weak for humanitarian reason, agad-agad di na kailangan ng petition niyan. But may limitations eh. So that’s what happened,” he said.
In a press conference in June, Peralta revealed the justice in charge of the case was stuck in the Visayas to justify the delay in acting on the urgent plea.
On Friday, Peralta no longer mentioned this as part of the reasons for the delay, noting only that he could not blame his fellow-magistrates because they have the right to write their own opinions within certain periods.
“In fact sa akin, 3 pages lang ang resolution ko. But I cannot tell them, ‘oh wag ka magsulat ng more than 30 pages, 40 pages.’ Di pwede yun. Also they spent a lot of time preparing all these opinions naman,” he said, referring to other justices.
Peralta also clarified why he thinks the Enrile ruling could not be applied to the case of the political prisoners, arguing that Enrile went through a hearing at the Sandiganbayan.
“Merong basis eh. Based from the evidence eh. Alam mo naman that [if] you are a lawyer, you cannot just depend on allegations. We rule on evidence eh. that’s the rule eh. So if you say he’s weak and so on, we cannot just – there are procedures to follow,” he said.
At least 3 of Peralta’s fellow-magistrates refuted this in the SC decision, saying there was never any bail hearing for Enrile at the anti-graft court.
Peralta revealed that he personally went out of his way to instruct the Manila regional trial court judges, through Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, to act on Nasino’s separate pleas even before baby River died.
However, the Nasino family, according to the Chief Justice, was not satisfied with Manila RTC Br 20 Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali’s orders and sought her inhibition.
It was Umali who denied Nasino’s earlier motions asking that she be allowed to stay for a year in the hospital to care for her baby.
When that was denied, Nasino bargained for a 1-year stay inside the Manila City Jail female dorm where she is detained but jail officials opposed this citing Bureau of Jail Management and Penology rules limiting the stay of a new-born child inside the detention facility to only up to 1 month.
Umali also denied that motion.
The case was re-raffled twice until it fell into the sala of Manila RTC Br. 47 Judge Paulino Gallegos who initially granted 3-day furlough, only to shorten it to 6 hours after jail authorities opposed the period.
By then, baby River had died.
“I understand the plight of Mrs. Nasino and I extend my condolence to her. I take this opportunity to extend my condolence to her,” Peralta said.
“We tried out best ano ha. And I hope Mrs. Nasino understands also the court and the others. That’s what really happened eh. There was no intention to delay it. Talagang may limitations kasi eh,” he added.