"Let us stop this cruelty now."
In his new encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis recalls the parable of the Good Samaritan: A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, who also passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan saw him, was moved with pity, went to him and bandaged his wounds, and brought him to an inn. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Jesus said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’”
To Pope Francis, this parable presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan.
But that is not what is happening in the Philippines as we have seen in the case of a mother and daughter, Reina and River Nasino.
Reina (Ina), a member of the urban poor group Kadamay, was arrested and detained in the Manila City Jail Female Dorm on trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives based on planted evidence. It was only after she was arrested that Ina found out she was pregnant with River.
Since then, according to Attorney Maria Sol Taule from the National Union of People’s Lawyers, “we have been struggling to plead for court to allow Ina and Baby River to be together for at least 12 months for exclusive breastfeeding” but “the jail authorities would say that they do not have facilities and manpower for that, as if we are asking 10 helpers for Ina and Baby River. And yes, the one who repeatedly denied us is a woman in robe, probably, also a mother.”
Deprived of Ina’s sustenance, River fell ill three months after. Attorney Kathleen Panguban, also from NUPL, narrates what happened next:
“But when I called the City Jail and they passed the phone to Reina, still I did not know where to begin. I found myself asking her first if she had someone with her right at that moment. I tried to hold back my tears and my throat ached. I struggled to find the words. I breathed deeply and there, I slowly told Reina: “wala na si Mikmik.” I really don’t know how those words slipped my lips.
We both cried. For how long, I lost track.
But it seemed like forever. In between sobs, Reina asked me what time and I told her, 8:50. Then she asked me if she will be allowed to see her. I could not give her a categorical answer. I told her that we have already filed our motion before the court to allow her to see River and will have to inform the court of River’s death on Monday.
I wanted to embrace her, to comfort her, because I know our voices are not enough to make her feel a little better. But it was impossible. We ended the call with a promise to remain strong and that we will update her from time to time. I hope that the court will grant our motion for furlough to allow Reina to see her River for the last time and bid her goodbye. River and Reina have already suffered so much. Let us all work to make this possible even for the last time.”
The callousness and lack of empathy by the authorities, including a Pharisaical justice system that gives more emphasis on legalism rather than humanity, is the primary reason for this tragedy. The police, prosecutors, and judges (and sadly the Supreme Court) in this case mirror the Levites of the parable who, although learned in the law, chose to ignore the suffering and pain of the victim. They know of course that the separation of mother and child is an egregious violation of the Bill of Rights, of child and welfare laws, and international agreements like the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Nelson Mandela Rules).
In Fratelli Tutti, the Pope urges everyone to have a responsibility for the wounded, for the needs of every man and woman, young and old, with the same fraternal spirit of care and closeness that marked the Good Samaritan. But we often ignore those who fall on the wayside, victimized by an unjust society - like the Nasinos and so many others like them.
Let’s stop this cruelty now: No more deaths like River! No more separations of mothers and daughters! Allow Ina to see and embrace River one more time! Release all political detainees!
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