The Supreme Court did not neglect jailed activist Reina Mae Nasino, the mother of a three-month-old child whose death has been blamed on the courts, according to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta.
“We did not neglect her. We tried to help her,” Peralta said in a virtual press conference marking his first year in office as chief justice.
Nasino lost her daughter, River, to pneumonia on October 9. The baby was separated from her mother on August 13 and died while under the care of her grandmother. She was laid to rest under heavy security last week.
Baby River was born on July 1 while Reina was, and still is, under detention, facing illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges following her arrest in November 2019 as part of a massive crackdown against the Left and left-leaning groups.
“We tried our best... and I hope Mrs. Nasino also understands the court and the others. There was no intention to delay it. There really are limitations,” Peralta stressed.
The legal barriers started when Nasino and 21 other petitioners pleaded in April to release sick, elderly and pregnant detainees vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus inside crowded jails.
The activist had asked the high court to release her from jail when she was six months pregnant, fearing COVID-19, but she gave birth and was separated from her child before the SC announced its decision.
All 15 SC magistrates voted on July 28 to treat the petition as a petition for bail or recognizance, leaving it to trial courts to determine if the petitioners are individually entitled to post bail. The high court, Peralta said, is not a trier of facts.
However, the result of the SC vote was not actually announced by the Supreme Court Public Information Office until September 10, or more than a month after. Nasino’s lawyers did not receive a full copy of the decision until October 9—the same day River died.
The main decision was only nine pages long, but eight magistrates issued separate opinions—collectively reaching almost 300 pages—to argue varying positions on a number of issues that could be applied to political prisoners-petitioners, and whether the so-called Nelson Mandela Rules could apply in the country.
Peralta revealed that he personally went out of his way to instruct the Manila regional trial court judges, through Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, to act on Nasino’s separate pleas even before baby River died.
However, the Nasino family, according to the Chief Justice, was not satisfied with Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 20 Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali’s orders and sought her inhibition.
Manila Judge Paulino Gallegos, who received Nasino’s re-raffled case, initially granted her a three-day furlough but cut it to three hours for each of two days, after jail authorities claimed they did not have enough personnel to escort the activist.
When Nasino was allowed out of jail to bury her daughter, she was surrounded by dozens of armed guards.
The Chief Justice extended his condolences to Nasino, who faces charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and is on a 21-day quarantine after her brief time out of the Manila City Jail.
Previously, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, in his separate opinion on the SC decision on the Nasino case, suggested that the court come out with a writ of kalayaan to address prison congestion.
Peralta said Leonen has yet to come up with a formal suggestion to the court.
“But if there will be one, of course we have to study it and then organize a committee to study further the recommendation of Justice Marvic,” he said.
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