Detained left-wing activist Reina Mae Nasino touches the coffin of her three-month-old firstborn, River. Aaron Favila/AP Photo

Philippine government criticized following the death of political activist’s infant

Human rights groups in the Philippines rallied against government authorities over the rulings on and treatment of detained activist Reina Mae Nasino and her deceased infant, River Emmanuel Nasino.


Clad in personal protective equipment and bound in handcuffs, Nasino said her goodbyes to her daughter on Oct. 16 as armed guards surrounded her. 


According to Philippine news site Rappler, 43 total armed personnel were sent out for the funeral, as confirmed by Xavier Solda, spokesperson of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. A SWAT team was present at the burial. Critics called these measures proof of the “barbarity” of government authorities toward its citizens recognized as threats, according to AP News


Nasino was arrested in November 2019 following a nighttime police raid. She was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. She denied the charge, claiming the weaponry had been planted by the police and was part of a targeted attack against left-leaning activists.


Upon learning of her pregnancy after a medical exam in prison, a number of motions had been filed to see to her release. The first was a collective motion filed when COVID-19 had struck the country. It had asked for the temporary release of 22 prisoners who were most likely to be health compromised, Nasino included, according to BBC


Before she could receive a response, however, she prematurely gave birth in prison. Further motions urged to keep the mother and child together either in a hospital or in Manila City Jail’s prison nursery.


The motion was denied—authorities cited they did not have resources to have personnel guard Nasino in the hospital for a year, according to Philippine network ABS-CBN News.


Nasino’s appeal to receive additional access to hygiene equipment and breastfeeding necessities was transferred to the judgement of the local government authority.


Baby River had been experiencing health complications including diarrhea and a fever. She was brought to the Manila Medical Center in late September. In an effort to reunite mother and child, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers acting as Nasino’s lawyers, filed an urgent motion for furlough, as reported by Rappler.


“Today, October 9, 2020, her pediatrician regretfully reported that the baby’s lungs have succumbed to bacterial infection and are quickly deteriorating,” the motion stated. “She is no longer responding to medications and may expire any moment now.”


“For purely compelling humanitarian reasons, please allow the 23-year-old mother to be with her baby before it is too late,” added Attorney Edre Olalia, president of the NUPL.


Hours after filing, River died from pneumonia, according to BBC. River had also been diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome, according to Rappler.


“The baby is gone,” Olalia said. “No words could ever capture this human tragedy.”


“We were deprived of our time together,” Nasino said to her daughter. “I have not seen your laughter. I will come out stronger. We are not alone, the grief will not remain forever. We will rise again.”


Early funeral proceedings had not gone without tension. Supporters gathered outside the funeral home, demanding justice for the Nasinos, according to CNN Philippines. Advocacy group Kapatid claimed the procession had been hijacked, as the hearse carrying River’s coffin did not slow down for both supporters and family to march alongside it, leaving behind the family to catch up.


“I thought we would have a proper burial with family and friends, but I was traumatized,” Marites Asis, Nasino’s mother, said. “My other daughter nearly fainted while chasing the car.”


Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Paulino Gallegos granted Nasino a three-day furlough for the wake and burial of River on Oct 13. However, arrival of a letter from the Manila City Jail Female Dormitory elaborating on the insufficient manpower to guard Nasino for the duration of the original furlough shortened the given period.


“We are also saddened with the death of Baby River Nasino,” wrote Jail Chief Inspector Maria Ignacia Monteron. “We sympathized what PDL [person deprived of liberty] Nasino feels these hard times of her life. But we cannot compromise the security and safety of other PDL who are still seeking our assistance.”


Gallegos then reduced the furlough from three days to six hours, spread across Oct 14–16 for three hours each day, according to Rappler. The overall treatment of Nasino earned criticism for its distinct limitations compared to other prolific political prisoners who had received more lenient treatment according to BBC.


“The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is deeply concerned with how government authorities are handling the case of human rights worker [Reina] Mae Nasino,” said Attorney Jacqueline Ann de Guia, a CHR spokesperson. “CHR, through its Investigation Office, is currently looking into Nasino’s case, also considering that there are allegations that her detention is a form of harassment due to her human rights work.”


“These are not random acts of cruelty and inhumanity. Clearly, this is a coordinated ‘whole-of-the-nation’ effort of the Duterte administration,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan Alliance Philippines. “Baby River’s death is on the Duterte government.”