Philippine Rights Group: Shortened Furlough for Inmate whose Baby Died ‘Merciless’

Aie Balagtas See
201014-PH-politics-women-620.jpg Philippine police guard activist Reina Mei Nasino, who is wearing a protective suit, as she attends the wake for her infant daughter, River Emmanuelle, at a funeral home in Manila, Oct. 14, 2020.
Aie Balagtas See/BenarNews

A Philippine rights group called a court’s decision Wednesday to cut the furlough of an imprisoned activist to grieve the death of her infant daughter a “merciless act of torture and injustice.”

Reina Mae Nasino, 23, was given only a pair of three-hour furloughs to mourn her 3-month-old daughter, River Emmanuelle, who died of pneumonia last week – a month after they were separated by the government. Nasino originally had been given three full days.

The brief furloughs are “more of damage control to appease the broad public calls for humanity than a sign of genuine empathy,” said Edre Olalia, Nasino’s lawyer.

“There are different laws in the universe,” Olalia said. “Security and health reasons obviously apply only to the least, last and lost in society than to the privileged and powerful.”

Rights group Karapatan said Bureau of Jail Management and Penology authorities should have respected the original three-day furlough. It called the reduction a “merciless act of torture and injustice.”

“[N]othing could be more cruel than giving a grieving mother such false hope,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s secretary general, said in a statement on its webpage.

“They have already put Reina Mae Nasino through so much pain and suffering, from jailing her on false charges, taking baby River away from her a few weeks after giving birth, refusing to let her be with her baby’s dying moments – and now they are shortening her only chance to be with her dead baby,” Palabay said.

“Instead, they torturously crushed her hopes to pieces,” Palabay said.

On Tuesday, Manila Regional Trial Court 47 granted Nasino a three-day furlough so she could grieve for her infant daughter, but the next day, the judge shortened it to two furloughs of three hours each after Manila City Jail officials protested the court’s ruling, Philippine news reports said.

Jail officials urged the judge to sharply reduce the furlough for Nasino, saying they lacked the manpower to guard Nasino, whom they referred to as a high-profile inmate and flight risk.

The court gave Nasino three hours on Wednesday to grieve her daughter at a Manila funeral home and three hours on Friday to attend a private burial in a public cemetery.

Nasino, who worked for Kadamay, a group that helps urban poor communities in Manila, was arrested with two other activists in November 2019 after a police raid. Authorities, who claim Kadamay is a front organization for communists, allege that they found firearms and explosives. Nasino and others claim the evidence was planted.

The inmate learned she was pregnant in February, weeks before her scheduled transfer to Manila City Jail. She gave birth on July 1.

In August, the court denied Nasino’s petition to allow her to nurse River for at least a year. The baby was diagnosed with pneumonia on Sept. 24 and died last Friday.

Upon learning of River’s death, Kadamay said, “The injustice in our country has been too much. ... Not even infants are safe,” according to CNN Philippines.

Police escort

Clad in full protective gear because of COVID-19 and escorted by about 20 jail guards and police, Nasino arrived at the Manila funeral parlor after noon.

“Why are they fully armed? Are they here for terrorists? Because I’m here for my daughter’s wake,” she said in an interview.

Nasino’s jail escorts tried to cut the visit short by twice dragging her from the room. They did this while she was being interviewed by journalists and then when she was talking to her mother and sister, causing Nasino’s relatives to plead for humanity.

“She violated our rules,” said an officer who identified himself as Senior Jail Inspector Anthony Angoluan.

Kathy Panguban, another lawyer representing Nasino, described the government’s action as overkill.

“They are treating her this way because she’s an activist, because she’s fighting for human rights,” Panguban said.

While Nasino was allowed only one month with her baby, Indonesian prison officials, by comparison, allowed Dian Yulia Novi, who was convicted of charges linked to a suicide bombing plan in December 2016, to keep her child with her in prison for two years.

In addition, the United Nations Bangkok Rules, adopted in 2010, called on nations “to identify and promote good practices in relation to the needs and physical, emotional, social and psychological development of babies and children affected by parental detention and imprisonment.”

Lawyer Olalia said Nasino’s case was in sharp contrast to treatment given to public officials – noting that police never arrested Imelda Marcos despite a court issued warrant in 2018 after she was convicted of large-scale graft.

“We will be watching closely prison officials when they again give the red carpet and pampering to a parade of those who feel they have more rights and entitlements because they grieve differently than ordinary people who are not favored,” he said.

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