Detainee gives birth while waiting for ruling on plea to free inmates vulnerable to COVID-19

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 03 2020 05:44 AM

MANILA -- For months, Marites Asis feared for her pregnant daughter's safety in the midst of a growing coronavirus pandemic.

Her daughter, Reina Mae Nasino, is detained at the Manila City Jail where congestion and poor sanitary conditions make for a conducive breeding ground for the spread of the virus.

That fear took her to the Supreme Court in April where Nasino and 21 other political prisoners urged magistrates to release sick and elderly prisoners and those most at risk of contracting the virus.

Three months later, Nasino gave birth on Wednesday, her petition still pending and faced with the uncertainty of whether she could take care of her new-born child.

Nasino only has until Friday, July 3, to stay at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, before returning to her jail cell.

Now, her mother fears mother and child would have to part ways soon.

"Natutuwa dahil lumabas na ho siya dito sa atin. Nalulungkot po dahil ayo'ko naman po silang kaagad na maghiwalay...Pagsamahin po muna sila para 'yung breastfeeding na sinasabi. Parang hindi makatarungan kung paghihiwalayin po sila," Asis told ABS-CBN News Thursday.

(I'm happy that the baby is now with us. But I'm also sad because I don't want the mother and the child to be separated right away. They should be allowed to stay together so she could breastfeed the baby. It is unjust if you separate them from each other.)

"Ang gusto ko sana mangyari, kung maaari po sana, huwag muna ibalik ang anak ko sa jail. Pabayaan po muna silang magsamang mag-ina," she added.

(What I want is that, if possible, they don't bring my daughter back to jail and instead allow her to stay with her child.)

Nasino's lawyers have filed a motion with a Manila court to either let her stay longer at the hospital or at the Manila City Jail's prison nursery at least until her baby reaches 12 months old.

"Immediate separation by the child from her mother is not in the best interest of the baby, since she will be deprived of motherly care at a very early age. Even babies born from mothers who are 'deprived of liberty' are entitled to the same rights as those born from mothers who are not similarly situated," her motion said, citing also the need to breastfeed the baby.

"The cruel and inhumane conditions of her detention at the Female Dormitory of the Manila City Jail are disadvantageous for breastfeeding. This is even aggravated by the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus."

The Interior and Local Government Department said Thursday there are 783 confirmed COVID-19 cases among detainees at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology's jails across the country while 135 BJMP personnel have been infected. 

Six detainees have already died.

Meanwhile, as of June 15, the Bureau of Corrections reported 301 confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which 16 have died.

BJMP jails house detainees undergoing trial while BuCor facilities are for those serving their sentence.

Twenty-one of the political prisoners who filed the petition before the Supreme Court are currently detained at BJMP jails while another one is in the Correctional Institution for Women under BuCor.

DELAY IN SUPREME COURT'S ACTION

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta explained on June 11 that the justice in charge of the petition was stuck in Visayas due to canceled flights, making deliberations on the petition difficult -- part of the reason for the delay in resolving the petition.

He promised the case could be decided by June 16.

A hopeful Asis went to the Supreme Court on that day bringing roses and a letter to the Chief Justice. Three Tuesdays went by without a word on whether the high court has come to a decision.

"Ang sakit-sakit po na makulong ang anak ko nang walang kasalanan. Nakulong, nag-COVID, nanganib ang buhay ng anak ko, wala pa rin ho silang binigay na aksyon para sa anak ko."

"Sa dinami-dami po dito sa atin na manloloko, bakit kailangang ang anak ko ang mag-suffer sa ganun?," Asis said of her daughter's plight as she continues to insist on her daughter's innocence.

(It is painful to see your daughter jailed when she hasn't done anything wrong. She got jailed, COVID pandemic came, the safety of my daughter was in peril, and yet they [Supreme Court magistrates] have not done anything for her. Out of the many crooked people out there, why should she have to suffer this way?)

Arrested in a raid in the office of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Tondo, Manila in November last year, Nasino and 2 others were accused of illegal possession of firearms and explosives -- a charge they claim were trumped up.

To this day, Asis insists her daughter was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

"Ang anak ko po nadamay lang. Wala talaga siyang pangalan sa search warrant," she said.

(She just got caught up. Her name wasn't on the search warrant.)

For a group of families and relatives of political prisoners, Nasino's case highlights the urgency of their plea.

"This instance proves the exigency of our call to the Supreme Court. We respectfully ask the justices to immediately decide on our petition that simply seeks to give vulnerable prisoners a fighting chance for survival against the deadly coronavirus disease, which continues to destroy lives in highly congested prison facilities," KAPATID spokesperson Fides Lim said in a statement.

"Let Reina Mae stay out of prison to take care of her newborn child. To take away a newborn child from her mother’s embrace is inhumane."

KAPATID's view echoes the call rights group Karapatan has been making these past few months:

"This is a matter of life and death for the thousands of prisoners in the country’s detention facilities. The Supreme Court should act urgently on the appeal of vulnerable political prisoners and their families before it’s too late."