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.

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