A moment of empathy

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    ‘Nasino’s plight and River’s death is another chance to hold up a mirror to what justice in this country means: can we say with a straight face that Nasino and Baby River would have received the same treatment if their family name was Marcos, Revilla, Enrile, Pimentel?’

    IT’S an understatement to say that most of us have very little in common with detained activist Reina Mae Nasino. I am almost certain that she and I come from different backgrounds, and perhaps I would never have come to know her name if not for the death of her three-month old daughter, River. She is an urban poor organizer, and was arrested by authorities at a raid of the office of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. She is detained pending trial on the charge of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, a charge hotly contested by her lawyers from the NUPL.

    My understanding is that Nasino gave birth while in detention, and asked for court approval to have her child with her in order to breastfeed River. This was opposed by the jail warden of Manila City Jail, citing the lack of facilities to make this happen. What was missed entirely by the jail warden here is considering what was in the best interest of child—breastfeeding is still best for babies, as doctors keep saying. While being in a detention facility is admittedly not the best surroundings for a newborn child, having access to her mother would have helped Baby River have at least a fighting chance, with her mother’s nourishment.

    The loss of a child is something one cannot wish on anyone, even on your worst enemy.

    Whatever her current circumstances may be, one cannot help but feel compassion for the situation of Nasino and her child, compounded by ludicrous treatment of the authorities.

    Once the court granted her furlough to attend her own child’s funeral, jail officials made noises about shortening the time given by the court itself supposedly for lack of manpower to secure the detainee outside. But lo and behold, 43 of them turned up, armed to the teeth, determined to rob whatever solemnity and space the grieving mother could have had in her final moments with her child’s earthly remains.

    They say grief is universal. Apparently, it is not, if we go by the actions of the authorities (and subsequent inane statements, if I may add) during the funeral of the tiny, helpless child. The mother was caught with a grenade, they said, in an effort to justify the overkill that went into securing Nasino. Wasn’t it their job to make sure that the mother did not have access to such while out on furlough? Was there a fear that Nasino would do a Wile E. Coyote and pull out an ACME stick of dynamite from thin air? Was it not enough that the detainee was cuffed, clad in full PPE with a plethora of armed guard surrounding her?

    Nasino’s plight and River’s death is another chance to hold up a mirror to what justice in this country means: can we say with a straight face that Nasino and Baby River would have received the same treatment if their family name was Marcos, Revilla, Enrile, Pimentel? The obvious answer is the white elephant in the room, a painful and unjust reality that ordinary citizens continue to face day in and day out, as predictable as the washing out (or washing in, ehem) of the dolomite sand on Manila Bay.

    Is feeling compassion for the plight of Nasino equivalent to a belief that she should be acquitted of the charges against her? No. And it is horrifying to see that there are people who take this leap, calling those who feel for Nasino as terrorists, communist sympathizers, etc. It is unsettling to live in a society who cannot be human enough to allow even a momentary pang of sadness for a child gone too soon, or for a grandmother pleading for a modicum of respect for the lifeless body of a young one. One can only hope that there will be a reckoning for the heartless treatment of Baby River for all responsible.