Just Juana Say: Let us not forget the death of Baby River

As if all the bad news surrounding the Philippines right now aren’t enough — from the continuous surge in the number of COVID-19 cases despite having the longest and most stringent lockdown in the world, the Congress drama, down to the daily injustices the Filipino people are experiencing due to the incompetence of the government — the public is once again reminded of the unjust society with the death of a three-month-old baby, a daughter of a political prisoner.

Baby River died around 9:00 PM on Friday, October 9, without being reunited with her mother, Reina Mae Nasino, one of the political activists who were arrested last year under the Duterte administration’s massive crackdown on non-government organizations (NGOs) that are actively airing dissent against the government.

Nasino was already one month pregnant with Baby River when she was arrested. She has been sending requests to the authorities to release her, the latest of which was an urgent motion for furlough to visit her bany who was then in a critical condition at the intensive care unit.

The baby, however, died even before the Manila RTC Branch 32 was able to release a decision.

“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,” Atty. Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said.

Following this, Filipinos over social media express their outrage about what happened.

“Ina Nacino was illegally arrested, imprisoned, and filed with trumped up charges. While in prison, she gave birth to baby River. The Duterte regime forcefully separated the baby from the mother. And now, baby River is dead. This is how heartless and monstrous Duterte can be,” a Twitter user wrote.

Some Filipino netizens compared how politicians who were arrested over charges of graft and corruption and other illegal activities were even given the chance to visit their sick relatives, while ordinary Filipinos, like Nasino, were denied of it.

“In 2017, while being detained, Bong Revilla was allowed to visit his dying father. The mother of baby River never had that chance,” one user posted on Twitter.

“Equal treatment under the law in the Philippines remains an illusion. But should we stop fighting for it? No. It’s frustrating but necessary,” the user added.

Another comparison was made of Nasino’s case to former US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton who killed Jennifer Laude. Pemberton was pardoned by Duterte and was allowede to leave the Philippines.

“This is on you, Duterte, and your cohorts that perpetrate these injustices. The blood of Baby River will flow in the conscience of those who denied the baby of a mother’s love,” another user lamented.

As of writing, it is unclear whether the authorities would even allow Nasino to visit the wake of her baby. Various groups, including Kapatid, an organization of individuals whose relatives are political prisoners, had reiterated their call for Nasino’s release.

“We assert our call for the compassionate release of Reina Mae from prison to correct this blatant injustice done to her and her baby who was never given a chance to live. We ask the court and the government to allow Reina Mae to grieve with her family in this period in her life,” the group said.

Stop ‘provocative actions,’ China tells US after American warship found sailing around Paracel Islands

In the latest of the ongoing ‘cold war’ between China and the United States, a Chinese official has demanded the US to stop its “provocative actions” in the West Philippine Sea after American warship destroyer USS John McCain was spotted sailing near the Paracel Islands, a part of the disputed waters China is illegally claiming as its territory.

The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Southern Theatre Command said that the actions of the USS John McCain was “dangerous.”

The command’s spokesman, Senior Colonel Zhang Nandong, accused the US of trespassing in China’s territorial waters, and urged the US to control its operations in the area.

“Beijing would take all necessary measures to safeguard its national sovereignty and security, and maintain peace and stability in the region. We urge the US side to immediately stop this kind of provocative action,” the PLA statement said.

The US-China relations have been tainted over various factors, the recent of which is US’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific sea row to back countries that have been victims of China’s bullying and aggression over disputed waters in the said region.

US President Donald Trump has also been targeting snide remarks to Beijing and Chinese President Xi Jinping over China’s alleged lies concerning COVID-19, a disease which stemmed from Wuhan City in China’s Hubei province.

Locsin, Chinese minister seek to put up ‘fast lane’ for citizens in PH and China

The Philippines and China are looking to establish a “fast lane” that would allow easy entry of Filipinos and Chinese in both borders of the respective countries for citizens classified as “urgently needed for personnel exchanges” and are involved in industries “crucial” to both nations.

The plan was one of the things discussed between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. as part of his official three-day visit in China.

The DFA said that the “fast lane” would “facilitate, with due safeguards, the movement of essential official exchanges and travel by personnel in crucial industries, such as business and trade, infrastructure, logistics, production, and technical services.”

The agency added that Locsin and Wang had a “candid and in-depth exchange on regional security concerns” including the Philippine-Chinese relations amid the pandemic.

There was no mention, however, if the meeting included a discussion on the West Philippine Sea (WPS), a maritime region declared by The Hague as under the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, but China continues to illegally claim as part of its territory.

Wang also affirmed that China will remain committed in supporting the Build, Build, Build program of the Duterte administration.

China-backed infrastructure projects, including the construction of the Sangley Airport involving China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC), have been raising concerns from government officials emphasizing that the presence of Chinese companies involved in Beijing’s aggression in the WPS is a blow to the security and sovereignty of the Philippines.

Duterte warned vs China coal plants

Church-based groups have criticized the Duterte administration for its indifference to the call for the protection of the environment against climate change even as growing opposition doubled against the proposed construction of a 150-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Davao City and the building of another coal power plant in San Carlos City in Negros Occidental.

According to sources, both power plants are being targeted to be constructed through a partnership with Chinese firms in another show of partiality towards China by President Rodrigo Duterte. China has moved up its investments in its involvement in infrastructure projects under the Build Build Build program of the administration, which includes the building of road networks and bridges and even in mass transportation and communication.

In a statement, the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), which has 92-member schools on Negros Island, and Sister Concepcion Gasang of the Missionaries of the Assumption said that both plans are “dispensable and unnecessary.”

Gasang branded fossil fuel as a “monster that will destroy” the country. “(It is a) very damaging mineral when burnt. I don’t understand why anyone would want to implement such a thing,” the nun told the Union of Catholic Asian (UCA) News in Davao.

“We affirm our strong commitment to pursue the values of ecozoic living and learning. We say no to coal because it is another monster that will destroy our country,” she added.

On the other hand, CEAP said that the building of a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant in San Carlos City would only harm the environment.

The group said the government should instead resort to clean and renewable sources of energy.

They also urged officials “to open channels of dialogue” with their constituents before allowing companies to build and eventually operate a coal-fired power plant.

Catholic bishops in the region earlier appealed to local authorities to reject the plant, saying it would pose a threat to the environment and to people’s health.

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza called on Negros Occidental governor Bong Lacson to junk the proposal. Environmental groups also oppose the plan and accuse city authorities of going back on previous initiatives aimed at protecting citizens’ health and the environment.

Jean Lindo, convenor from the Network Opposed to Coal-Davao, says local officials should drop the plans for the power plant to be built by Aboitiz Power Corporation.

“We are known for our ‘No Smoking’ ordinance that benefited many of our residents, so why push for coal which is more deadly than tobacco?” Lindo asked.

Local officials have expressed support for the plant because of the increasing demand for power from the industry. Mindanao Business Council president Vicente Lao said Mindanao manufacturers and processing plants want more power to keep up with production. Anti-coal activists, however, say the government can always choose renewable energy to meet increased demand.

Francis Morales, another convenor from the anti-coal group, advised that “government officials and the people should move forward to discussing pro-poor and pro-people alternatives to coal. Anti-coal activists in the city are compiling scientific evidence to prove that coal is a threat to the environment and to the health of people.

With Negros Occidental being labeled as the ‘Renewable Energy Capital of the Philippines’, the Department of Energy (DoE) noted that with its renewable energy sources, the province is poised to become an entirely ‘green’ region by 2030. There are nine solar power plants, eight biomass plants, and 10 hydropower plants in the Negros region with a combined capacity of 579.43 MW.