"If the court and the authorities had an ounce of human decency and allowed the mother to breastfeed her baby, River might still be alive today."
When is it right to separate a mother from her infant?
The death of a three-month-old baby separated from her jailed mother despite pleas to keep the pair together shows that state authorities think doing so is perfectly all right.
Reina Mae Nasino, a human rights worker for Kadamay, says she didn’t know she was pregnant when she was arrested last year, attributing her missed period to the stress of a night-time police raid in which she and two other activists were arrested. But a medical exam in prison found she was in her first trimester.
On July 1, she gave birth to River, underweight at about 5.5 pounds.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) pleaded with the court to either let the mother and her baby stay longer at Fabella Memorial Hospital, or let Reina Mae keep River inside the jail where they could be provided with natal care facilities.
These pleadings were rejected.
Lawyers also asked that Reina Mae be allowed to express breast milk and be given access to clean lactation facilities inside the Manila City Jail Female Dormitory.
Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 30 denied the plea and ordered that the baby be turned over to her relatives. On Aug. 13, the baby was given to Reina Mae’s mother.
“We were shocked that the court would deny such a plea. The judge only needed to consider the motions from her own perspective as a human. But unfortunately compassion and mercy were not extended to mother and child,” said Reina Mae’s lawyer, her lawyer Josalee Deinla.
Reina Mae’s mother fought for the right of her daughter and granddaughter to remain together, sending photos and letters to the authorities nearly every week pleading for her daughter’s release, but to no avail.
The hospital where Reina Mae gave birth recommended the baby be kept with her mother, said Deinla. “But the prison authorities said they lacked the resources. They came up with a lot of excuses, violating the child’s right to her mother’s breast milk,” she said.
Baby River’s health began to deteriorate the following month, and calls to reunite the mother and child grew more urgent when the baby was hospitalized on Sept. 24 and her condition worsened. Still, Reina Mae was not allowed to see her baby.
River died of pneumonia, just over three months old.
On Tuesday, a court granted Reina Mae a three-day furlough to attend the wake and funeral of her daughter—but later that same day, prison officials tried to reduce the length of her compassionate release.
What kind of justice system do we have that allows this to happen? If the court and the authorities had an ounce of human decency and allowed the mother to breastfeed her baby, River might still be alive today.
Yet just a month ago, a convicted US serviceman who had beat and strangled a Filipino transgender was allowed to walk free after serving only five years and 10 months of his 10-year sentence, his flight to freedom eased by a presidential pardon, no less.
If a convicted killer could be shown some compassion and human kindness, why were Reina Mae and her infant denied the same?