Justice for all

Photo Manila Bulletin

By now, Reina Nasino and her baby River have be­come house­hold names.

An ur­ban poor com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, Nasino, to­gether with Bayan Manila campaign di­rec­tor Ram Carlo Bautista and la­bor ad­vo­cate Alma Mo­ran, was ar­rested in No­vem­ber, 2019, af­ter the po­lice raided the Bayan Manila of­fice in Tondo where they were stay­ing for the night.

Nasino, Bautista, and Mo­ran are still de­tained, fac­ing trumped-up charges. They have not been con­victed of any crime.
Nasino gave birth to River in July while be­ing de­tained, and the court or­dered to sep­a­rate them af­ter a month. The court ig­nored her pe­ti­tion for fur­lough to be able to go to River when the baby was rushed to the hos­pi­tal.

River died, and Nasino only knew it through a painful phone call from her lawyer.

Per­haps sens­ing out­rage from the pub­lic, the court heard an ur­gent mo­tion from Nasino that she be al­lowed to at­tend the wake and burial of her daugh­ter. In a sur­prise move, the court granted the mo­tion and gave Nasino a three-day fur­lough.

But just hours later, the Manila City Jail Women’s Dor­mi­tory war­den op­posed the mo­tion, saying the BJMP has “not enough per­son­nel” to es­cort Nasino.

The court de­cided to cut the three ­day fur­lough to six hours – three hours on Oc­to­ber 14 and an­other three hours for Oc­to­ber 16, the day of River’s burial.

Ev­ery­one wit­nessed what hap­pened on Oc­to­ber 16. “Not enough per­son­nel” be­came 47 per­son­nel, don­ning bat­tle fa­tigues and bear­ing high-pow­ered weapons run­ning over the fu­neral par­lor where River lay in re­pose. Nasino was brought in wear­ing a full-body haz­mat suit, mask and gog­gles. She was hand­cuffed.

For her 47 BJMP es­corts, it was not enough that they prac­ti­cally cor­doned off the fu­neral par­lor. Seven es­corts kept close to Nasino, de­priv­ing her of the space, pri­vacy, and dig­nity of mourn­ing her daugh­ter. They also re­fused to take off the hand­cuffs.

When Nasino started an­swer­ing ques­tions from jour­nal­ists, the BJMP sud­denly tried to snatch her away, an­ger­ing her fam­ily and her lawyers who force­fully told them off and to obey the court or­der.

“Cru­elty and bar­bar­ity be­yond com­pare” was how the Na­tional Union of Peo­ples’ Lawyers de­scribed what hap­pened.
For the In­te­grated Bar of the Philip­pines, it was “heart­break­ing.”

There are two things that come to mind as I watched videos of the Oc­to­ber 14 “overkill” es­cort op­er­a­tions of the BJMP, sup­pos­edly on or­ders of the court.

First, there’s the un­equal treat­ment and un­equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law.

We have it on record that courts have granted de­tained ac­cused fac­ing trial — who hap­pen to be pres­i­dents, sen­a­tors, and gover­nors — all sorts of fur­loughs. One was al­lowed to visit his mother three times. One was al­lowed to at­tend his son’s grad­u­a­tion and his father’s birth­day. An­other was given a 12-day fur­lough to spend Christ­mas and New Year at home. Yet an­other was al­lowed to visit the den­tist to have his teeth cleaned. The court also al­lowed a de­tainee to un­dergo pro­longed “hos­pi­tal ar­rest.”

The po­lice and the BJMP have been very cour­te­ous and con­sid­er­ate to these de­tainees. We never heard them com­plain about having “not enough per­son­nel” to es­cort these VIPs un­der the law. We also saw them give them the dig­nity and pri­vacy as the fur­loughed de­tainees went about their busi­ness.

Un­for­tu­nately, Nasino and River are just name­less and face­less per­sons, com­pared to these VIPs. It is as if the court and the law enforcers im­pose and en­force dif­fer­ent sets of laws and re­quire­ments on or­di­nary, non-pow­er­ful, non-wealthy Filipinos.

The sec­ond point is that the treat­ment of Nasino and her baby River il­lus­trates how the gov­ern­ment views ac­tivists. Un­armed, openly op­er­at­ing within the bounds of the law, fa­mil­iar to the com­mu­ni­ties they go to, and known even to the po­lice with whom they co­or­di­nate for demon­stra­tions, the likes of Nasino are made to look guilty even with­out be­ing con­victed for what ap­pears to be man­u­fac­tured charges.

Those who or­dered the kind of op­er­a­tion for Nasino last Oc­to­ber 14 wanted the op­tics that was seen around the coun­try. They seem to have wanted ac­tivists to see the fate that would be­fall on them if they dare to defy. Never mind if the court would even­tu­ally dis­miss the charges for be­ing friv­o­lous, with­out ba­sis and with­out merit.

It is im­por­tant to note that most of the cases filed against ac­tivists since 2001, in­clud­ing those filed against ac­tivist partylist rep­re­sen­ta­tives, have been dis­missed for lack of ev­i­dence and of merit. The en­tire ma­chin­ery and re­sources of gov­ern­ment have re­peat­edly been used against ac­tivists ever since the 1970s, but they have mis­er­ably failed.

By dis­cour­ag­ing open, above­ground, and le­gal ac­tivism, the red-tag­gers, red-baiters, and witch-hunters limit the so-called demo­cratic space and push more peo­ple who merely wanted to be le­gal peace­ful ac­tivists into join­ing the il­le­gal armed revo­lu­tion. The same thing hap­pened in the 1970s and 1980s when the gov­ern­ment con­stricted the “demo­cratic space” and the armed revo­lu­tion bloomed.

To­day, we mourn with Nasino. To­mor­row, we turn our grief into in­spi­ra­tion for what the IBP says needs to be done – “ac­tion to im­prove our jus­tice sys­tem.” Jus­tice for Nasino, for her baby River, and for all. ###

October 17, 2020
(Photo from the Manila Bulletin frontpage, same date.)