NEWS | #FreePoliticalPrisoners: Outrage of human rights groups persists

Photo from Yahoo News

Outcry for the release of all political prisoners intensified with the death of River Emmanuelle, the three-month-old daughter of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino. The public asserted that Baby River’s death was prompted by state repression and not mainly by her health complications. Moreover, groups call on the Supreme Court (SC) to be an active and humane court.

Trumped-up charges

As of May 2020, there are 635 political prisoners across the country, 104 of which are sickly and 48 are elderly, with some imprisoned for 20 to 30 years on trumped-up charges.

Karapatan Alliance Philippines Inc. affirmed that political prisoners have been arrested, detained, and imprisoned primarily due to their political beliefs. Majority are facing non-bailable charges which were plotted through planted evidence and falsified testimonies.

The alliance argued that trumped-up charges are used to justify their illegal arrests, hide the political reasons of their imprisonment, and stigmatize them as threats to national security. Political prisoners also suffered from physical harassment and emotional abuse, including mandatory strip searches on their families.

Furthermore, Karapatan urged the Duterte administration to stop the illegal political persecution of critics and dissenters.

“It is within President Duterte’s power to rectify such historic injustices and to bring relief and remedy to political prisoners and their families,” Karapatan said. “Whether through an amnesty proclamation, pardon, or through the most expedient measure of humanitarian release, President Duterte has the power to free all political prisoners.”

Justice for Baby River

The call for the release of political prisoners intensified with the death of Baby River, particularly the inhumane imposition of military decorum during Nasino’s final moments with her deceased daughter.

Kapatid, a support group for families and friends of political prisoners, stressed that they are indeed blaming the courts in the demise of Baby River. “Are we blaming the courts? Yes, we are. You could have done something but you did not,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim expressed.

Lim stated that Kapatid sent a letter to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta last July 7, asking for the baby to stay inside the cell with Nasino for primary infant-care. The plea was not permitted, and Nasino’s counsel were left with a 301-page conflicted decision of the chief justices debating whether the Mandela rule applies to their case. Until October 9, the day Baby River succumbed to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Nasino was not allowed to spend time with her daughter.

Subsequently, Kapatid deemed the decision of the Manila Regional Trial Court to reduce the allotted time for Nasino’s visit to the wake of her daughter as ‘gross injustice and heartless’. The initial furlough of three days were slashed to six hours, citing the lack of security personnel to accompany Nasino. However, contrary to the claims, at least 37 to 47 Manila Jail personnel accompanied Nasino during her visit.

On Baby River’s funeral procession last October 16, commotion erupted when at least 20 police men tried to take away the deceased’s remains. Alongside this, Nasino remained handcuffed during the burial even after her mother, Marites Asis, appealed to the guards to allow the political prisoner to wipe her tears, hug the casket of Baby River, and grieve properly.

Meanwhile, several groups protested outside Manila North Cemetery to condemn the actions of the Duterte administration regarding the death of Baby River. The group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) criticized the authoritarian protocols done by the military.

“Hindi natin maramdaman ang kahit anumang katiting na respeto sa pamilya [Nasino] sa panahong ito na igalang ang kanilang kagustuhang mapayapang ilibing ang kanilang sanggol.” BAYAN stated.

The plight continues

The public mourned for Baby River’s passing and at the same time criticized the current administration’s manifestations of impunity. Gabriela partylist Representative Arlene Brosas said that Baby River’s name will never be forgotten as it will be a name that will always remind the Filipino people to fight back for justice and lasting peace.

“As someone said, her death is on all of us — but most especially on the Duterte administration and the court, for showing not even an ounce of compassion for Baby River and her mother… isang inosenteng sanggol ang hinayaang mamatay ng sistemang ito. Isang sanggol na ang tanging kasalanan ay maging anak ng isang aktibistang pinararatangang terorista ng gobyerno,” Brosas added.

Furthermore, the solon pleaded to heed the call for the immediate release of Nasino and all other political prisoners. In line with this, Kapatid asked the SC to approve the Writ of Kalayaan, an extraordinary remedy that prisoners can avail of when proven that there is extreme need for reliefs given jail conditions, and other health factors. Associate Justice Marvic Leonen also insisted that the said writ should serve as a continuing mandamus to address jail congestion.

“Don’t be a passive court, be an active, humane court. This is an issue not only about political prisoners but all prisoners who are elderly, very sick, pregnant, nursing mothers. We ask you to release more prisoners,” Lim asserted. “It must be remembered that they have not yet been convicted. They are still innocent. And yet they are highly at risk of being infected by the deadly virus. It’s already like imposing the death penalty on them even before their guilt can be established beyond a reasonable doubt.”

As for Nasino, her counsel from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) considers filing a contempt complaint against the jail guards.

“This overkill on the part of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel destroyed the solemnity of the funeral, depriving the movant of her chance to properly mourn for her dead child,” lawyers from NUPL stated.

Nasino promised her child that she will continue to fight against the repressive administration, “Lalaya ako nang mas matatag. Lalaya kami nang mas matatag. Hindi tayo nag-iisa. Panandalian lang ang pagdadalamhati natin. Pero maghahanda tayo sa pagbalikwas natin.”

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The Manila Collegian

The Manila Collegian

The Official Student Publication of the University of the Philippines Manila. Magna est veritas et prevaelebit.