Karapatan presses release of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino following death of her 3-month old baby

Karapatan renews its call for the immediate release of 23-year old Reina Mae Nasino, following the death of her 3-month old baby around 8:50 p.m. last night, October 9, 2020, due to acute respiratory distress syndrome, at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH).

According to a recent clinical abstract issued by the PGH Medical Records Division, the baby was rushed to said hospital on September 24, 2020 due to diarrhea, and was later assessed as a case of acute gastro-enteritis (AGE) with severe dehydration and pediatric community-acquired pneumonia (PCAP C), COVID-19 suspect.

In an urgent motion filed yesterday by her lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), they asked the court for Nasino’s temporary release on furlough and that she be allowed to stay with her struggling baby. Yesterday, the infant’s pediatrician reported that the baby’s lungs have succumbed to bacterial infection and are quickly deteriorating, that she was no longer responding to medications.

Nasino and her two colleagues were arrested on November 5, 2019, when cops from the Manila Police District raided the office of Bayan - Manila, where the three were staying, using a search warrant issued by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 89 Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos - Villavert. The raid was part of coordinated operations by the Philippine National Police in several offices and homes of members of non-governmental organizations in Manila and Negros Occidental. Nasino asserts that the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against her and her colleagues were trumped up as the “evidence” against them were planted by the police.

On April 8, 2020, Nasino together with 22 political prisoners filed a petition for release on humanitarian grounds in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. Citing the World Health Organization and the Philippine Department of Health, petitioners asserted that pregnant women are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. This threat, they averred, exponentially grows in prison conditions because of over-congestion, inevitable contact with prison employees who enter prisons from their communities daily, vulnerability to diseases due to lack of proper nutrition, sanitation facilities, medical facilities, access to medicine and medical facilities, and lack of steady supply of water and cleaning facilities.

In a statement on September 10, 2020, five months after the urgent petition was filed, the Supreme Court announced its decision to not rule on the petition and have trial courts assess the prisoners’ eligibility for bail. The petitioners’ lawyers only received a copy of the Supreme Court decision yesterday, October 9, 2020.

On June 16, 2020, Nasino’s lawyers filed a joint omnibus motion to quash search warrants and to suppress evidence in an attempt to effect her release and that of her companions at the time she was arrested. They cited the several defects on the search warrant issued that resulted in the arrest of Nasino and posed due process issues. On July 1, 2020, Nasino was rushed to the Fabella Hospital where she gave birth to a baby girl. On July 20, 2020, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 20 Judge Marivic Balisi - Umali, who was assigned to the case, denied the omnibus motion as well as another court motion for Nasino to breastfeed her baby inside jail. Mother and child were forced to separate on August 13, and Nasino’s mother brought the baby home.

Karapatan cites the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (otherwise known as the Bangkok Rules) that women prisoners shall not be discouraged from breastfeeding their children, unless there are specific health reasons to do so. The human rights group also underscored that numerous expert medical researches have evidenced that breastfeeding provides protection for infants against infections, including acute and prolonged diarrhea, and long-lasting active immunity.

In the case of Nasino, both the local court and the Supreme Court disregarded the welfare of the child and mother when it issued decisions that prevented Nasino’s release, which would have enabled her to care for and breastfeed her baby in a sustainable manner and environment. We strongly take to task the courts for this horrible situation faced by Nasino and for the death of her baby.

The most accountable for this dire state of mother and child is the Philippine National Police and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict – both publicly flaunted their roles in conducting the arbitrary and highly questionable arrests of Nasino and many activists in the raids last year. The role of the judge who issued the search warrants for the said police operations also merits investigation.

Nasino has already been cruelly deprived of her right to care for her child and to be with her in her dying moments. It is even more imperative to assert the call for the immediate release of Nasino on humanitarian and just grounds, with the appalling circumstances she is facing at present and to allow her to grieve this terrible loss of life. This case and that of all the 646 political prisoners throughout the country, who, like many prisoners, are subjected to inhumane conditions in jail, represent a facet of the callous and brutal governance of the Duterte administration – where the poor and those working on social justice issues are arrested and kept in jail for trumped-up cases or minor offenses, while those perpetrating gross human rights violations are exempted from prosecution and accountability.

Free Reina Mae Nasino! Free all political prisoners!