By now, Reina Nasino and her baby River have become household names.
An urban poor community organizer, Nasino, together with Bayan Manila campaign director Ram Carlo Bautista and labor advocate Alma Moran, was arrested in November, 2019, after the police raided the Bayan Manila office in Tondo where they were staying for the night.
Nasino, Bautista, and Moran are still detained, facing trumped-up charges. They have not been convicted of any crime.
Nasino gave birth to River in July while being detained, and the court ordered to separate them after a month. The court ignored her petition for furlough to be able to go to River when the baby was rushed to the hospital.
River died, and Nasino only knew it through a painful phone call from her lawyer.
Perhaps sensing outrage from the public, the court heard an urgent motion from Nasino that she be allowed to attend the wake and burial of her daughter. In a surprise move, the court granted the motion and gave Nasino a three-day furlough.
But just hours later, the Manila City Jail Women’s Dormitory warden opposed the motion, saying the BJMP has “no enough personnel” to escort Nasino.
The court decided to cut the three-day furlough to six hour – three hours on October 14 and another three hours for October 16, the day of River’s burial.
Everyone witnessed what happened on October 16. “Not enough personnel” became 47 personnel, donning battle fatigues and bearing high-powered weapons running over the funeral parlor where River lay in repose. Nasino was brought in wearing a full-body hazmat suit, mask and goggles. She was handcuffed.
For her 47 BJMP escorts, it was not enough that they practically cordoned off the funeral parlor. Seven escorts kept close to Nasino, depriving her of the space, privacy, and dignity of mourning her daughter. They also refused to take off the handcuffs.
When Nasino started answering questions from journalists, the BJMP suddenly tried to snatch her away, angering her family and her lawyers who forcefully told them off and to obey the court order.
“Cruelty and barbarity beyond compare” was how the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers described what happened.
For the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, it was “heartbreaking.”
There are two things that come to mind as I watched videos of the October 14 “overkill” escort operations of the BJMP, supposedly on orders of the court.
First, there’s the unequal treatment and unequal protection under the law.
We have it on record that courts have granted detained accused facing trial — who happen to be presidents, senators, and governors — all sorts of furloughs. One was allowed to visit his mother three times. One was allowed to attend his son’s graduation and his father’s birthday. Another was given a 12-day furlough to spend Christmas and New Year at home. Yet another was allowed to visit the dentist to have his teeth cleaned. The court also allowed a detainee to undergo prolonged “hospital arrest.”
The police and the BJMP have been very courteous and considerate to these detainees. We never heard them complain about having “not enough personnel” to escort these VIPs under the law. We also saw them give them the dignity and privacy as the furloughed detainees went about their business.
Unfortunately, Nasino and River are just nameless and faceless persons, compared to these VIPs. It is as if the court and the law enforcers impose and enforce different sets of laws and requirements on ordinary, non-powerful, non-wealthy Filipinos.
The second point is that the treatment of Nasino and her baby River illustrates how the government views activists. Unarmed, openly operating within the bounds of the law, familiar to the communities they go to, and known even to the police with whom they coordinate for demonstrations, the likes of Nasino are made to look guilty even without being convicted for what appears to be manufactured charges.
Those who ordered the kind of operation for Nasino last October 14 wanted the optics that was seen around the country. They seem to have wanted activists to see the fate that would befall on them if they dare to defy. Never mind if the court would eventually dismiss the charges for being frivolous, without basis and without merit.
It is important to note that most of the cases filed against activists since 2001, including those filed against activist partylist representatives, have been dismissed for lack of evidence and of merit. The entire machinery and resources of government have repeatedly been used against activists ever since the 1970s, but they have miserably failed.
By discouraging open, aboveground and legal activism, the red-taggers, red-baiters, and witch-hunters limit the so-called democratic space and push more people who merely wanted to be legal peaceful activists into joining the illegal armed revolution. The same thing happened in the 1970s and 1980s when the government constricted the “democratic space” and the armed revolution bloomed.
Today, we mourn with Nasino. Tomorrow, we turn our grief into inspiration for what the IBP needs to be done – “action to improve our justice system.” Justice for Nasino, for her baby River, and for all.