MANILA (UPDATED) — Detained activist Reina Mae Nasino on Friday asked the Supreme Court’s Judicial Integrity Board to dismiss a Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge from service for alleged gross ignorance of the law and gross misconduct in ordering her separation from her daughter, who eventually died.
Nasino’s lawyers filed an administrative complaint against RTC Branch 20 Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali for alleged gross ignorance of the law and gross misconduct in issuing orders that kept her in jail and separated her from baby River.
Umali was the handling judge of the illegal possession of firearms and explosives case against Nasino. She denied Nasino's plea to stay with baby River in the hospital for a year, and later rejected the move to keep mother and daughter together in jail. She later inhibited from the case.
“The respondent judge acted with conscious indifference to the rights of the complainant and her co-accused. Now, the complainant is bereft of a child,” the complaint read.
“The respondent judge’s misconduct is grave, weighty, and momentous, as opposed to trifling. She ordered the premature weaning of an innocent and helpless infant from her mother’s protection because to her biased mind, the child’s rights mattered less. The respondent judge thus put baby River in harm’s way,” it added.
Baby River died on Oct. 9 due to pneumonia, almost 2 months after she was separated from her mother, who has been detained at the Manila City Jail.
Her death was condemned by rights groups as a failure of the judicial system.
According to the complaint, Balisi-Umali ignored Philippine laws granting a mother the right to breastfeed her baby -- particularly RA 7600 or the Rooming-In and RA 10028 or the Breast-feeding Act of 2009 -- which require the state to promote breastfeeding and provide measures to allow mothers to breastfeed their babies.
Also ignored, said Nasino’s lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, is a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) circular encouraging jails to provide lactation stations.
Instead, in one of her orders, the judge referred Nasino’s request for “lavatory for handwashing, refrigerator and electrical outlets” to the local government of Manila.
The judge is also accused of ignoring the Bangkok Rules, the international standard for treatment of women prisoners, which allows a baby to stay with the detained mother based on the “best interests” of the child.
Nasino alleged that the judge relied solely on the statements coming from the Manila City Jail Female Dorm OIC Ignacia Monteron that the BJMP rules do not allow a baby to stay inside the jail for more than a month, omitting the exception that an extension may be granted by the warden herself for medical reasons. She claimed she was discriminated against.
“The premature separation of baby River from the complainant was clearly not in her best interest. In fact, it is cruel, heartless, and serves no purpose, especially amid a pandemic, when the complainant’s breastmilk would have provided baby River her much- needed protection from life-threatening diseases,” the complaint said.
“Indubitably, the respondent judge’s assailed orders gave way to the decline of baby River’s health, which eventually led to her tragic death,” it added.
Nasino also accused the RTC judge of disregarding her rights to due process and against unreasonable search and seizures in refusing to subpoena the records for application of search warrant and in upholding its validity despite alleged irregularities.
The records, her lawyers said, would have been able to show if Judge Burgos-Villavert had sufficient probable cause to issue the search warrant.
And despite the wrong address, the ambiguity and the failure to specify the place where the search warrant was to be enforced, Umali affirmed its validity citing presumption of regularity of authorities in performing their official functions.
For Nasino, this could only mean the judge violated the Code of Judicial Conduct because of her alleged bias against her.
"[T]he respondent judge’s dismissal from the service is imperative even if this will not bring back baby River’s life or fill the void that she left in her mother’s heart, it will relieve the bench – and the public -- of a magistrate who has lost the requisite competence, integrity and impartiality that are fundamental to her office,” her lawyers argued.
Nasino gave birth to River on July 1 at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, 8 months after her arrest at the office of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Tondo, Manila in November 2019.
AFTERMATH OF BABY RIVER’S DEATH
The death of baby River has sparked criticisms of the Philippine judicial system and also the lack of facilities inside jails for pregnant women and women with babies.
When Nasino gave birth to baby River, the baby was below the usual weight for newborns. She did not receive prenatal care while in detention.
She was one of 22 petitioners who had asked the Supreme Court to release prisoners and detainees at most risk of contracting the coronavirus but it took the high court months to deliberate on the petition, only to refer it to lower courts to receive evidence.
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.
Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta himself defended the court’s handling of the case, saying the magistrates tried their best to help Nasino.
Peralta disclosed he personally went out of his way to instruct the Manila RTC judges, through Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, to act on Nasino’s separate pleas even before baby River died.
But baby River passed away before the Manila court could grant any of the relief she asked for.
The NUPL filed an urgent motion asking the court to reunite Nasino and her daughter River for the last time, before the baby was to expire. This was denied.
Nasino was initially granted a 3-day furlough to attend baby River’s wake, only to be shortened to 6 hours after the BJMP objected.
Nasino was granted limited time to attend the wake and funeral for her daughter, at all times guarded by heavy security.