Baby River’s mom prods SC to protect jailed mothers
MANILA, Philippines — Detained activist Reina Mae Nasino, whose child died almost two months after being removed from her, has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse a Court of Appeals ruling that affirmed a Manila City court’s decision that separated her from Baby River.
In a petition for review, Nasino, through the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said the high court should accept and resolve her case on merits even though her baby, River Emmanuelle, is already dead.
Nasino said an SC ruling on the issue could ensure “compassionate justice” for other jailed mothers and their children.
“While Reina Mae and River Emmanuelle were not afforded the kindness as an inseparable mother-child deserves, the cognizance and resolution of this case would hopefully help guarantee somehow that no mother and child would similarly be denied not only their basic rights under the law but of compassionate justice,” the petition said.
“Petitioner is pursuing this action not just to attain justice for the untimely loss of her three-month-old daughter River Emmanuelle, but also to vindicate the rights of other persons deprived of liberty–pregnant and nursing mothers– who may have experienced the same cruelty of being separated and prevented from breastfeeding their children,” it added.
Nasino gave birth to Baby River last July. She pleaded with Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Marivic Balisi Umali to allow her to stay with her child at the hospital to breastfeed her for at least a month, or at least let them stay together temporarily inside an isolated part of the Manila City Jail.
She said, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important to give the necessary nutrients her infant needs through her breastmilk.
But Umali gave more weight to the letter of the jail warden that the female dormitory is not the best place to keep a baby, especially amid a public health crisis.
The female dormitory also lacks facilities such as a lavatory, a cooling facility to store breastmilk, and an outlet for breast pumps at her detention cell to allow Nasino to be with her baby, the jail warden asserted.
The local court also cited the statement of the jail warden that they were undermanned to secure Nasino if she is allowed to stay in a hospital for a year to be with her baby.
Nasino, through the NUPL, appealed her case before the Court of Appeals saying that Umali committed grave abuse of discretion with her ruling. But the appellate court in a ruling last month said it was already moot and academic as her baby was already dead and buried at that time.
But in her plea before the SC, Nasino pointed out that the appeals court erred in dismissing the petition for being moot and academic, adding that it falls among exceptions to the mootness principle, especially since she stressed there is a “danger that the acts sought to be reviewed or the violation complained of will be repeated.”
Nasino cited the case of activist Amanda Lacaba Echanis, who was arrested together with her month-old baby and currently detained in the Cagayan Provincial Jail.
Echanis is also fighting to keep her baby with her.
“Petitioner further submits that mootness does not preclude the Court from resolving the issues therein,” it added.
According to NUPL, to dismiss the petition just because of the death of Nasino’s daughter will be a “grave injustice” to her and other similarly situated prisoners-mothers.
It added that the high court can use its power of judicial review to guide lower courts in handling similar cases to prevent a repeat of what happened to Nasino.
“The respondents-Umali, BJMP Director Allan Iral and Manila city jail female warden Supt.Ignacia Monteron-utter’s disregard of the right of every nursing detainee and children born to them while in detention should not be countenanced by the courts. To dismiss the petition just because of the death of Petitioner’s child will be a grave injustice to Reina Mae and other nursing PDLs and any mother for that matter,” the petition said.
Nasino asserted that her plea is anchored on her constitutional right to health, public interest in protecting an incarcerated nursing mother and the child born to her while in detention, the need to educate the bench, the bar, and the parties involved regarding the right to health in relation to nursing PDLs and their children and her child’s right to health and right to breastfeed.
These issues, Nasino claimed, were ignored by the Manila RTC and the appeals court in their respective rulings.
Aside from asking the high court to give the petition due course, Nasino asked that it reversed the lower court’s decision and to remand the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings, or in the alternative, for the high court to take cognizance of the petition and resolve it on merits.
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