"That was certainly not your best, Mr. Chief Justice. In fact, that was not anywhere near good enough."
The head of the judicial branch of government, Supreme Court Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, insisted Friday that they did not neglect a jailed activist, Reina Nasino whose three-month old baby died after their enforced separation.
“I hope Nasino also understands the court and the others. There was no intention to delay [the judgment]. There really are limitations,” Peralta said in a virtual press conference.
It seems too much to ask for Nasino’s understanding, given that the 23-year-old mother, after a harrowing separation from her newborn, was only granted a few hours to attend her daughter’s wake, during which she could not even wipe her own tears properly because her handcuffs were never once removed. Despite the Manila City Jail’s claim of a shortage in manpower, no less than 47 police officers kept tight watch over Nasino as she mourned her child.
Nasino found out she was pregnant after her November 2019 arrest.
In April she—along with other sick, elderly and pregnant detainees—asked the Supreme Court to grant their temporary release on humanitarian reasons because of the covid-19 pandemic.
But the Court only announced its ruling in September and kicked the decision back to the lower court.
Nasino gave birth July 1—even before the 15 magistrates decided on the matter±and on August 13, the Manila Court Branch 20 ordered that Baby River be separated from her mother.
The Manila court also denied a plea to allow the pair to stay together at Fabella Memorial Hospital, or even in a jail with natal care facilities for at least a year. Another petition, this time for Nasino to be allowed to express breastmilk and be provided clean lactation facilities, was also denied. There were no such facilities at the jail, she was told.
In an interview with this newspaper last week, the executive director of the Commission on Population and Development, Dr. Juan Antonio Perez III, emphasized that there is no dearth of laws and other issuances guaranteeing the rights of the newborn to be with the mother and to obtain the best nutrition possible through her breast milk.
These laws make no distinction between ordinary mothers and infants, and those where the mother is in jail. Perez enumerated the executive orders, republic acts and jurisprudence that support keeping mother and child together.
We are aghast at how Manila Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali could be ignorant—or dismissive, we don’t know which is worse—of the scientifically established need to allow the mother to spend time with and nurse her child. We are equally aghast at how yet another judge could cut short a three-day furlough to two days of three hours each, especially given the completely preventable tragedy of the baby’s death.
“I take this opportunity to extend my condolence to [Nasino],” Peralta said during his briefing. “We tried our best.”
The only opportunity that should be taken is to acknowledge the failure of the courts to render justice, and with urgency, as they must. Such a failure directly resulted in the needless death of a child—and in the erosion of confidence that the officers of the court see the names in the cases as human beings, instead of unresolved issues they can dispose of at their leisure.
That was certainly not your best, Mr. Chief Justice. In fact, that was not anywhere near good enough. We hope you understand our indignation.