MANILA (2nd UPDATE)— A 3-month-old baby separated from her detained mother has died, amid appeals by her family and activists to allow them to reunite.
According to KAPATID and National Union of Peoples' Lawyers advocates, baby River died before 9 p.m. Friday night, hours after NUPL lawyers asked a Manila court to allow her mother, 23-year-old Reina Mae Nasino, to see her child for the last time.
"The baby is gone. No words could ever capture this human tragedy. Heartbreaking does not even come close to it. What kind of justice system, nay society do we have to let this inhumanity and injustice to mother and child happen?" NUPL president Edre Olalia said.
"We have not only lost our hearts, we have lost our souls if we do not feel the pain and the rage."
NUPL lawyers had raced against time to reunite Nasino and her baby.
They filed with the Manila regional trial court late Friday afternoon an urgent motion to allow Nasino to spend time with River, who was in intensive care at Philippine General Hospital (PGH) battling bacterial infection.
The baby’s doctors said her lungs were “quickly deteriorating” and she was “no longer responding to medications and may expire any moment now,” according to the motion.
Nasino, who is facing illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges, gave birth to River on July 1 at Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, 8 months after her arrest at the office of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Tondo, Manila in November 2019.
At only 5.5 pounds, River weighed less than the average baby.
NUPL, Nasino’s counsel, tried to keep mother and baby together by asking a Manila court to allow both of them to stay together for 12 months, at first in the hospital and later inside the Manila City Jail.
But both attempts failed with Manila RTC Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali siding with the position of the detention facility that its limited resources cannot cover hospital detention and jail rules do not allow keeping the baby inside the detention facility either.
A separate petition before the Supreme Court for the release of sick and elderly prisoners out of fear of a breakout of the coronavirus inside congested jails did not prosper, with the high court leaving the matter for trial courts to decide, but not after taking 5 months to decide.
The delay was partly blamed on the justice in charge of the case stuck in the Visayas because of the lockdown.
On August 13, the baby was turned over to her grandmother.
On Friday, October 9, her pediatrician gave the baby only a few hours to live, based on the court filing.
Nasino’s lawyer attributed the baby’s poor health to the failure to give her breastmilk, which, they said, is a child’s indivisible right.
“With respect, the Honorable Court is urged to extend the kindness and compassion that the movant and her baby were denied when they were precipitately separated from each other and deprived of their basic right to breastfeed,” Nasino’s lawyers had pleaded.
They added that Nasino, who has maintained the charges against her are trumped up and politically motivated, was not a flight risk and had no intention of fleeing. She was also willing to undergo the necessary safety protocols and procedures.
Aside from NUPL, KAPATID and Gabriela have joined calls for the release of Nasino.
“Nasino is one of the hundreds of political prisoners who are deprived of justice and freedom for fighting for the rights of the masses,” Gabriela said in a statement, addressing the appeal to both the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice.
KAPATID also issued an urgent plea to write to Manila RTC Executive Judge Virgilio Macaraig to urge him to act on the motion but the baby died a few hours later.
With River gone, KAPATID called for Nasino’s release to allow her to grieve with her family and “to correct this blatant injustice done to her and her baby who was never given a chance to live.”
“The courts and this government bear responsibility for the chain of tragic events that have transpired from the time that Reina Mae was arrested on manufactured charges of illegal possession of firearms to the time she joined 21 other political prisoners in filing a petition at the Supreme Court for the humanitarian release of the sick and elderly, including pregnant prisoners like herself,” it said in a statement.
Nasino’s arrest was part of the government’s massive crackdown on the Left and perceived leftists.
More than 60 activists from different parts of the country were arrested on the basis of a search warrant issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.
But Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta himself defended the judge’s issuance of search warrants which covered areas outside her jurisdiction.
Reacting to River’s death, the Isaiah Ministry, said the baby’s death “could have been prevented if only the authorities granted the petition of Nasino and allow her to personally take care of the child.”
“We have no words to describe how inhumane and how unjust this tragedy. As church people, we share the grief, pain, and suffering of Nasino and her family,” Fr. Dionito Cabillas said in a statement.
“We might be able to forgive those who denied Nasino’s petition to hold her daughter but we are certain that we will not forget this heartlessness, grave injustice, and alarming inhumanity,” he added.