[OPINION] Transform the outrage over baby River’s death into action

Words cannot describe the lack of humanity displayed by the Philippine National Police these past few days in the case of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino and her three-month old daughter, River Emmanuelle.

River passed away on October 9 due to lung failure following a bacterial infection and pneumonia. Her story followed that of her mother, a community organizer and activist who was arrested last November 2019 on trumped up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Since River’s passing, the police and the courts have tried their very best to further aggrieve an already grieving mother. Reina Mae’s request for a three-day furlough was contested by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, which pared it down to a six-hour period over a “lack of personnel.”

Fears of a “lack of personnel” were assuaged when Reina Mae was escorted to La Funeraria Rey in Pandacan, Manila by dozens of cops. The police guarded her as if their lives depended on it, swatting away journalists and legal counsel from speaking to her. 

What was supposed to be a quiet moment of solace turned into hell on earth. Cops wouldn’t even let her finish her visit before no less than 47 officers whisked her back to her jail cell.

But no day was as craven as October 16, when River was laid to rest. Hours before the procession, police officers swarmed the funeral parlor and blocked guests from entering. Cops then stole the coffin as it was being brought out and hurriedly took it to the Manila North Cemetery to be buried.

This wouldn’t even be the first time the police decided to desecrate and hijack the body of their murder victim. Last August, police officers stole the remains of Randy Echanis from his grieving family and held them hostage during the funeral. For the longest time, human rights groups have repeatedly reported accounts of police officers denying families of extrajudicial killings from seeing their loved ones, only for them to find the remains buried in some ditch.

This is not how functional democracies work. What the police and, ultimately, the Duterte government has proven is that it has zero interest in upholding the rights of its citizens. Instead, it is singularly focused on grinding all dissent into dust and silencing all critics.

No method is deemed too profane. Police will plant evidence, make up claims, lie, sue, and steal bodies if it means protecting their interests and those of the foreigners and businessmen they truly serve. The military will bomb communities, close down schools, and parade innocents as “surrendered NPA fighters” if it allows them to keep their image of being “people the Filipino people can trust.”

These are distractions meant to distort the truth – that the Filipino state is morally bankrupt and self-serving, that it is the will of the few landlords, businessmen, and foreign corporations that dictate national affairs, and that the price we pay is measured in the blood of the innocent.

What happened to River was nothing short of injustice. It is only fair for us to be outraged, to be consumed by sorrow and anger that such a thing could happen under the watch of more honest people. Indeed, it is the only correct response in trying times such as this. (READ: [EDITORIAL] Sino'ng pumatay kay baby River?)

But let us not keep our outrage impotent. Impunity persists when the masses fail to act. It is because of collective inaction that Duterte and his cohorts feel that they are free to curb our rights and intimidate us into subservience.

We must transform this collective outrage into collective action. Let us not forget our activist traditions. The history of the Philippines is the history of struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed, between the Filipino masses and the abusive elite.

Let us make history once more. All over the world, mass movements have risen in response to the outrage felt by the people. Philippine history has taught us that mass action is the most potent force in changing our society. Mass action birthed a revolution, ousted two Presidents, won us scores of rights for all sectors, and continues to be the strongest line of defense against full-blown tyranny.

If there is one time where mass action is needed, it is right now, at this very moment. Let every street, highway, and alley feel the collective rage brought about state injustice. Let our anger transform into action, and then into hope for a better future. – Rappler.com

Justin Umali is a writer and an activist from Laguna. He is a regular contributor for Esquire Philippines, and currently President of Kabataan Partylist Laguna.