From 3 days, jailed activist gets only 6 hours to say goodbye to baby River

Activist Reina Mae Nasino, 23 years old, spent much of her pregnancy at the Manila City Jail, and had only a month with her baby River before they were separated by a court order. After River's death, Reina Mae got only 6 hours to say goodbye.

From an original continuous 3 days, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 47 Judge Paulino Gallegos revised his furlough grant to Reina Mae and cut it to 6 hours, split 3 hours each on Wednesday, October 14, and the burial on Friday, October 16.

Soon after Judge Gallegos granted the 3-day continuous furlough, the Manila City Jail Female Dormitory sent a letter to the judge, requesting him to reduce it because manpower is inadequate to guard Reina Mae for those days.

The Manila City Jail said it only had 12 staff as outside force for their prisoners.

In a hearing Wednesday morning, jail officials said they feared that Reina Mae would carry the coronavirus back to her detention facility, according to prisoners' rights group Kapatid.

"Prison officials are now opposing because of the health reasons. They are saying that they do not have the facility. Afraid, they said baka kung anong dala niya pagbalik (we don't know what she will bring back when she returns)," said Kapatid.

Reina Mae's lawyers tried to argue that it was the government's duty to provide an isolation facility for Reina Mae upon return. In the end, Judge Gallegos cut 3 days to 6 hours.

Before Reina Mae could even reach the funeral home in Pandacan, cops of the Manila Police District (MPD) already guarded the area. By the time Reina Mae arrived, there were more than a dozen agents there, composed of jail guards and reinforcement from the police.

Dressed in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gear and in handcuffs, Reina Mae walked towards her child's coffin swarmed by cameras and her escorts.

Kapatid's Fides Lim said she tried to ask the jail guards to remove Reina Mae's cuffs, telling them the activist could barely rise from her seat because she was handcuffed.

“Remove the handcuffs. Shame on you," said Lim.

The guards would remove them from one hand, which allowed Reina Mae to hold her baby's portrait, one fist pumped in the air, signature of an activist.

"Masakit sa akin, sabik akong makita ang anak ko pero hindi sa ganung kalagayan," said a tearful Reina Mae, who was allowed to briefly speak to the media through a face mask and a face shield.

(It's painful for me, I was really longing to see my child but not in this state.)

Reina Mae will not be allowed to join the funeral procession on Friday and will have only 3 hours for the burial.

Reina Mae is undergoing trial for the non-bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. She was among the more than 60 activists arrested in a crackdown on November 19, the result of search warrants issued by one judge in Quezon City.

Reina Mae was also among the petitioners in a holistic case brought to the Supreme Court during the coronavirus pandemic. They tried to ask for humanitarian considerations in seeking the temporary release of prisoners.

Role of the courts

The petition invoked the controversial precedent of granting bail to plunder defendant and former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, but that argument failed as dissenters to that decision refused to concede that the Enrile bail was proper.

Justices wrote exhaustive opinions about what the courts can do to bring "substantive justice" in a situation where there is no clear precedent, and where the state's interest clashes with a prisoner's rights.

Associate Justice Amy Lazaro Javier even had baby River specifically in mind, when she wrote: "I believe we have a role to play in protecting the baby from adverse consequences that are not of the baby's own doing."

"It’s too late. It’s too little too late. Alam mo 'yun, huli na ang lahat eh, wala nang magagawa 'yung mga ganito kagandang mga salita sa mag-ina, hindi na maibabalik 'yung buhay ni baby River," said one of Reina Mae's lawyers, Josa Deinla of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL).

Questions were also raised why a mere letter from the Manila City Jail stopped an already issued court order, and why it was able to ultimately reduce the furlough.

On Twitter, former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te said of the reduced furlough: "When the text kills but the spirit gives life – imagination, compassion, and, yes, humanity, must come in to breathe life into law. This order shows how these three do not exist."

Philippine courts have been inconsistent through the years on their basis for granting furloughs, as prisoners have been granted such for less compelling reasons like attending family occasions.

NUPL president Edre Olalia said, "We will be watching closely prison officials when they give again the red carpet and pampering to a parade of those who feel they have more rights and entitlements because they grieve differently than ordinary people who are not favored." –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.