Baby River, the daughter of jailed activist Reina Mae Nasino, was laid to rest at the Manila North Cemetery Friday afternoon.
The three-month-old baby died of respiratory failure on October 9 before she could be reunited with her mother.
The funeral was fraught with tension, even when Reina Mae’s kin and counsels asked police to allow the activist-mother to peacefully mourn her daughter’s passing during her three-hour furlough from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Around 20 police officers surrounded La Funeraria Rey in Pandacan, Manila, where River’s wake was, and barred supporters and the media from entering.
The cops also prevented supporters from holding up placards to call for justice for what happened to the mother and child.
Later, Reina Mae’s mother Marites Asis had to beg and kneel before the police to allow them to hold the funeral at the original schedule at 11:30 a.m. The cops wanted to delay the burial until 1 p.m.
Militant groups planned to conduct a caravan during the funeral march, passing by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals before ending up at the Manila North Cemetery where Baby River was laid to rest.
But that plan was thwarted after police officers speedily took River’s remains directly to the cemetery, where even more cops awaited them, leaving the baby’s family behind.
“This is cruelty! A grieving family was earlier harassed by the police and now, they took the remains of River away from them. Saan ka nakakita na ang pulis ang kumukontrol sa isang libing? Ito ay libing para sa isang musmos na pinagkaitan ng estado ng pagkakataon (Where else could you see the police controlling a funeral? This is a funeral for a baby that was deprived by the state of a chance),” said Kapatid, a support group for families and friends of political prisoners.
“Dapat na ang pamilya ang masunod. Walang karapatan ang mga pulis na kumuntrol sa ganitong gawain at lalong wala silang karapatan na itakbo ang bangkay ng isang sanggol na ipinagluluksang lubos ang pagpanaw (The family should be the one in charge. The police has no right to control the service, especially to speedily bring the remains of a baby that is being mourned),” it added.
The police officers allowed only up to 50 people to enter the cemetery. Several activists stayed outside the cemetery’s gate to hold a protest.
Reina Mae arrived, once again, clad in a full set of personal protective equipment (PPE), in handcuffs, and heavily guarded by the police.
Despite Asis and Reina Mae’s lawyers’ constant pleas for her to be uncuffed so she could grieve properly, she remained handcuffed throughout the funeral.
“Panandalian lang ang pagdadalamhati natin. Maghahanda tayo para sa pagbalikwas natin. Babangon tayo (Our mourning will be brief. We will prepare for our uprising. We will rise),” she tearfully said.
Under heavy guard
A total of 100 police officers were deployed—20 at the funeral home and 80 at the cemetery—Brig. Gen. Rolando Miranda, Manila Police District (MPD) director, said.
A SWAT vehicle was also seen outside the funeral home.
Kapatid noted that majority of the police officers were heavily armed.
“Actually, kulang pa ‘yon, eh, pero ayaw naman namin maging OA (Actually, that is not enough, but we did not want to overreact),” he told Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.
Miranda said they deployed that many cops to ensure order and to properly implement physical distancing and other health and safety guidelines.
The Manila police chief also warned activists to respect the solemnity of River’s burial.
“Libing lang ng bata, bakit kailangan may nagra-rally? Hindi naman namin pinatay ‘yung bata (It is only the burial of a child, why should there be a rally? We did not kill the child),” he said. “‘Wag nilang bastusin ‘yung libing nung bata (They should not disrespect the child’s burial).”
Asis questioned the number of police officers deployed and admitted her anger when the police sped off toward the cemetery with her granddaughter’s remains.
“Si Baby River ay hindi ginto. Tao siya. Bakit ang dami niyo? Wala akong kinakalaban. Sobra na kayo. ‘Di porke’t mahirap lang kami at walang malaking pangalan (Baby River is not a piece of gold. She is a human being. Why are there so many of you? I never stood up to anyone. Just because we are poor and do not have any big names),” she said.
“Wala naman kaming magagawa, maliit na tao lang kami. Simpleng buhay lang mayroon kami (We cannot do anything; we are just small people. We only live simple lives),” she added.
River’s life and death
Reina Mae was pregnant with River when she was arrested in November 2019 for allegedly being found with firearms and explosives at the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Manila Office in Tondo, Manila.
Baby River, fondly called “Mikmik” by her loved ones, was born underweight at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Medical Hospital on July 1. She and her mother were returned to the Manila City Jail 48 hours later.
Before this, she filed a motion before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) to allow her to breastfeed her daughter for a year at the hospital or a prison nursery.
But Manila RTC Branch 20 Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali denied this, saying that the jail has “very limited resources” for the care of her child.
Reina Mae was also among 22 elderly and medically-compromised detainees who filed a motion for their compassionate release amid the pandemic on April 8 before the Supreme Court.
But after around five months, the High Court ruled that the trial courts will be the ones to decide on their temporary release.
On August 13, the activist-mother was ordered to turn her child over to her relatives.
River was admitted at the Philippine General Hospital for fever and diarrhea on September 24. She was placed in the intensive care unit on October 9 where she died a few hours later.
A few hours before her daughter died, Reina Mae filed a very urgent motion for furlough so she can be with her child in her dying moments.
On Tuesday, Manila RTC Branch 47 Judge Paulino Gallegos granted her three full days from Wednesday to Friday to be by her daughter’s side during the wake and burial.
But the next day, the court shortened Reina Mae’s furlough to only six hours on Wednesday and Friday after receiving opposition from the Manila City Jail.
In a letter on Tuesday, Manila City Jail Chief Inspector Maria Ignacia Monteron asked that Nasino’s furlough be shortened, citing their limited number of personnel. She said the unit only has 12 personnel handling 665 detainees.
During the hearing, lawyers from the Manila City Jail also said, citing a guideline that persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) can only stay at wakes and funerals for a maximum of three hours. They also said they were afraid that Reina Mae would bring back a virus to the jail.
Reina Mae arrived at the wake guarded by up to 47 Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) personnel. She was also wearing a full PPE set and was in handcuffs, that she was allowed to remove for a few minutes.
Her escorts tried to escort her back to the jail twice even before her time was up. She was prevented from speaking privately with her family, lawyers, and the media.
She was eventually escorted out of the funeral home with around 20 minutes to spare before 4 p.m.
Members of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) have filed a manifestation before the Manila RTC on Thursday, recounting the treatment that Reina Mae received from her escorts.
The NUPL said they are eyeing to file charges against the BJMP personnel.
“Hindi ito ‘yung pinagusapan namin sa korte. Wala sa court order na bastusin nila ang nanay ng bata, na bastusin nila na ang paghihinagpis ng pamilya (This is not what we talked about in court. The court order does not state that you can disrespect the child’s mother and their family’s grief),” said Atty. Kathy Panguban, one of Reina Mae’s counsels, said.
“Sa lahat ng may kinalaman sa pambababoy sa libing at lamay ng bata (To everyone who was involved in spoiling the child’s wake and funeral), we will all see you in court,” she added.