The death of a three-month-old baby separated from the imprisoned mother, despite pleas to keep the couple together, shocked the Philippines, reports the BBC̵
Reina May Nasino, a human rights activist, did not know she was pregnant when she was arrested last year in Manila. She exposed her missed period to the stress of a night police operation in which she was arrested, along with two fellow activists.
It was only during a medical examination in prison that the 23-year-old woman found out that she was in the first trimester.
Ms. Nasino’s newborn death last week – less than two months after the baby was removed from her care – has raised questions about the treatment of Filipino mothers in custody, as many have expressed anger at the judiciary over the child’s failure.
Ms. Nasino, who worked for the urban poverty group Kadamai, was arrested in November 2019 with two of her fellow activists after police raided an office where they lived at the time.
They were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives – charges all three denied. They say the munitions were planted by authorities amid escalating repression against left-wing activists.
- “My face was on a wanted poster”
Despite the circumstances, Ms. Nasino “was quite excited to be a mother,” said her lawyer, Josali Dainla. She was prepared for the challenge of giving birth in custody and knew that the trial was likely to be lengthy.
But as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the Philippines, her worries grew rapidly. The National Union of People’s Advocates, a legal aid group representing Ms. Nasino, has filed a series of demands for her release.
The first in April called for the temporary release of 22 political prisoners most vulnerable to coronavirus infection, including Ms Nasino. The petitions later asked the court to allow the activist and her baby to stay together in a hospital or in Manila City Prison, where she was detained.
“We were shocked that the court would reject such a legal basis. The judge only had to consider the proposals from his own point of view as human. But unfortunately compassion and mercy were not extended to the mother and child,” Ms Deinla said.
The Massino River was born on July 1. Her birth weight was low, but a few days later she and Mrs. Nasino returned to the Manila City Prison, where they remained in a makeshift room reserved for them.
Under Philippine law, a child born in custody may remain with the mother only during the first month of their lives, although exceptions may be made. By comparison, children born to mothers detained in Malaysia have the right to remain with them until they are three or four years old. In the UK, maternal and infant units allow women to stay with their babies for up to 18 months.
The campaigns demanded pressure from the authorities to release Ms Massino and her baby.
“We would tie blue ribbons to the pillars of the Supreme Court gates. They stood for River, the essence of life. We put candles outside. But they didn’t listen,” said Fidesz Lim, who heads Kapatid, a support group for families and friends of political prisoners. in the Philippines.
Mrs. Nasino’s mother, assisted by Kapatid, also delivers photos and letters to authorities almost every week, begging for her daughter’s release.
“We knew how important it was for baby River to be breastfed,” said Ms. Lim, who is also campaigning for the immediate release of her husband, a 70-year-old political prisoner.
The hospital where Ms. Nasino gave birth recommended that the baby be kept with her mother, Ms. Nasino’s lawyer, Ms. Dainla, said. “But prison authorities have said they lack resources. They have come up with many excuses, violating the child’s right to breast milk,” she said.
According to the Bangkok Rules – UN Guidelines for the Treatment of Prisoners – decisions about when a child is separated from their mother must be based on the best interests of the child.
It was not possible to get an immediate response from the Philippine prison authorities.
On August 13, baby River was separated from his mother. Ms. Nasino was “inconsolable,” Ms. Dainla said. “She didn’t want to give up her baby. She was actually begging for the baby to be left to stay longer.”
Due to the Covid-19 rules, which restrict the access of prisoners, Ms Deinla and her colleagues were only able to contact Ms Nasino by telephone.
Baby River’s health will begin to deteriorate next month, according to Ms. Lim. The newborn was handed over to the care of her grandmother, Ms. Nasino’s mother, who told the support group that the family was “very worried because the baby has diarrhea,” Ms. Lim said.
Calls to reunite the mother and child were growing more urgently as River was hospitalized on September 24 and her condition worsened. But Mrs. Nasino was still not allowed to see her baby.
Last week, River died of pneumonia, just over three months. Her death shocked many in the Philippines, where there is recognition and sympathy on social media.
Many also expressed anger at the justice system, with some comparing the recent pardon of a U.S. Marine convicted of killing a transgender woman in the Philippines to a court’s refusal to allow Ms. Nasino to see her dying baby. “* Electoral * justice has been done,” a Twitter user wrote.
Others highlighted the difference in attitudes towards the young activist compared to higher-ranking and wealthier prisoners who were allowed temporary release to attend events such as their children’s weddings or diplomas.
Early Tuesday, a local court allowed Ms. Nasino a three-day job, starting Wednesday, to attend her daughter’s awakening and funeral. Later in the day, prison officials tried to reduce the length of her compassionate release.