Baby River: Injustice, personified

Mark Russell Caranzo ||

Incarcerated behind the bars of indifference and selective justice, human rights worker Reina Mae Nasino, mourned in jail over the death of her three-month-old baby, River, amid constant pleas for release. Oblivious of her pregnancy during the onset of detention for supposed illegal possession of firearms and explosives, Nasino gave birth and nursed baby River in the Manila City Jail before she was separated from her child a month after. River’s health deteriorated fast after the separation. Despite Nasino’s appeals to allow her to take care of her terminally ill child, the court remained apathetic to the mother’s request. 

River’s death speaks volumes of how the Philippine justice system has failed to serve public interest once more. In the first place, the court did not consider the urgency of the situation when the National Union for People’s Lawyers (NUPL) requested to grant Nasino the opportunity to stay with her baby for at least a year, more so when the baby was reportedly sick. In fact, the court junked such petition citing inadequate resources to ensure she remains detained while nursing her baby. However, with the country in the pandemic’s stranglehold forcing lockdown for all its citizens, a case for Nasino’s “escape” from authorities is flimsy at best. 

Moreover, Nasino’s case was an apparent juxtaposition of court decisions that were previously ruled out to VIPs and other influential persons. For instance, if the Sandiganbayan granted Sen. Bong Revilla a five-hour furlough to visit his sick father last 2015, then why can a lower court not do the same? As stated in the Human and People’s Rights Declaration of the Philippines, every person must be treated equally before the law. Therefore, it is undeniable that the concerns regarding selective justice that netizens have voiced out are all well founded.

In order to prevent another case such as this from happening again, what then needs to be done?

First, the amount of time allowed for children in custody to be with their mother (which is currently one month in the Philippines) should be extended. For reference, other countries such as Malaysia allow detained mothers to be with their children for up to four years. Looking at the Philippine context, such one-month rule poses a problem as according to psychoanalyst and parenting expert Erica Komisar, mothering is very crucial to the first three months of a child. She added that intense closeness and skin-to-skin relationship remain critical for up to three years, things which both River and her mother were sadly deprived of.

In line with this, the government must also invest in bettering jail facilities for inmates with specialized needs such as pregnant women. For instance, based on a report by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, incarcerated pregnant women must not be compromised nutritionally, and must instead be given full access to prenatal care through regular obstetric visits, among others. At the same time, the Birth Companion charity has emphasized that postnatal facilities are also of tantamount importance. The group argued that well-ventilated breastfeeding sections, antenatal clinics, and regular family visits must be seen as prerequisites. It is therefore obligatory for prison systems to give highly vulnerable Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL) the appropriate treatment that they deserve.

In conclusion, it is undeniable that deliberate indifference and selective justice played a significant role in the death of baby River. As Atty. Edre Olalia of the NUPL said, “What kind of justice system, nay, society, do we have to let this inhumanity and injustice to mother and child happen?” Unfortunately, more of these accounts are bound to happen, unless the Philippine justice system becomes an equal playing field. Indeed, baby River was a victim of a problematic system, yet every Filipino must be aware that this system would continuously exist and persist, unless otherwise challenged and rectified.

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