3 months on, families still waiting for SC to act on prisoners' release
MANILA, Philippines – Through letters and blue ribbons, families of political prisoners on Tuesday, July 7, renewed their calls for the Supreme Court to release their loved ones amid the coronavirus pandemic that has also infected Philippine jails.
In the middle of mask-wearing women stood Marites Asis, the mother of 22-year-old Reina Mae Nasino. On July 1, Nasino gave birth while on furlough from the Manila City Jail, and later returned to jail with her newborn baby. (READ: Arrested in 2019 crackdown, jailed activist gives birth in a pandemic)
"Gusto ko mayakap ang anak ko at apo ko," Asis said in front of the SC seal. "Nakikiusap ako, huwag kayong magagalit sa akin dahil sa ginagawa ko.... Kailangan ko na po gawin ito dahil hindi na biro ang nangyayari sa atin ngayon.”
(I just want to hug my daughter and my grandchild. Please, don't be mad at me because of what I'm doing.... I need to do this because things are very serious now.)
Nasino was arrested in November 2019 in Tondo, Manila – part of a series of crackdowns on activists and progressive groups. In December 2019, while detained in Camp Crame, she found out she was one month pregnant.
In April 2020, Nasino joined 21 other political prisoners in asking the SC for their release on humanitarian grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The High Court is yet to make a decision on the petition despite numerous reminders by Kapatid – a group composed of families of political prisoners – that the High Court is racing against time and a deadly virus. (READ: ‘Takot na takot kami': While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails)
Pleas to SC
Asis said that she wanted to make sure that her daughter was eating enough since she was breastfeeding. The last time she talked with her daughter was on July 1.
"Ang akin lang po eh mapabuti ang kalagayan nila at nasa piling namin silang mag-ina," Asis said. "Sa nangyayari sa bansa ngayon, mas mabuti na nasa piling namin siya kasi delikado sa kanila na manatili sila doon sa kulungan."
(I just want them to be safe and to be with us. With what's happening now in our country, it's best that they are with us because it's not safe for them to remain in jail.)
In a handwritten letter, Asis pleaded to SC Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to act on the petition and asked him to release her daughter and her grandchild.
“Nakakaawa po ang kanilang kalagayan sa loob ng city jail dahil pa rin sa lumalaganap na virus sa ating bansa…at hindi lingid sa inyong kaalaman na maaari silang mag-ina ay mahawa,” Asis wrote.
“Kaya muli po akong nagmamakaawa at kakatok sa inyong butihing puso na palayain ninyo ang aking anak,” she added.
(They are in a pitiful situation inside the city jail because the virus is still spreading in our country...and you are aware that the mother and child may catch the virus. I am again appealing to your kind hear to release my daughter.)
Court Administrator Midas Marquez received Asis' letter, and letters of the other relatives of prisoners.
Three months since the petition and 4 months into the pandemic, families remain steadfast in their calls for the release of at-risk prisoners. But they fear for the worst, especially as the coronavirus continues to rage in jails.
Kapatid said that “every day that prisoners spend in highly congested jails means nothing but peril, especially for those most at risk from the disease.”
“Three months of waiting is beyond enough,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said. “Yet we are still waiting for the Court to deliver what the Chief Justice vowed.”
As of June 11, 745 prisoners and 125 personnel in Bureau of Jail and Management Penology (BJMP) facilities were confirmed positive for coronavirus.
Rappler also obtained documents showing a high number of deaths at the Bureau of Corrections’ New Bilibid Prison from March 4 to April 24. Dozens of people have died of unclear causes without being tested for the coronavirus.
As of Monday, July 6, the Philippines reported at least 46,333 coronavirus cases in the country, with 12,185 recoveries and 1,303 deaths. – Rappler.com