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Saturday, November 27, 2021

River of outrage

Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 October 2020

This paper’s banner photo on Oct. 17 illustrates what Philippine society has come to. The armed might of the state represented by at least 10 personnel in fatigues is on full display against the perceived threat posed by a mourner standing before a tiny open casket.

Curiously, two of the fatigues-clad personnel crowding the mourner each have a hand to the latter’s head. A comforting gesture? Unlikely. Such a gesture goes against the naked power on show, highlighted by the long firearm seen at the foreground. They appear to be merely adjusting the face shield of the mourner dressed in personal protective equipment — and, if one looks closely enough, handcuffed.

The mourner in the picture taken at Manila North Cemetery on Oct.16 is jailed activist Reina Mae Nasino and the body in the casket is that of her three-month-old child she named River. Those surrounding her are members of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and the Philippine National Police, which earlier, pleading lack of personnel, succeeded in cutting the three-day furlough granted Nasino by a Manila court.

The furlough was intended for Nasino to leave Manila City Jail and be present at the wake and subsequent interment of the baby wrested from her by the state late in August, on grounds that prison is no place to rear a child. It was cut to six hours in the last two days, which Nasino’s armed escorts spent ensuring there would be no privacy between the handcuffed mother and her dead child and even among Nasino and family members and lawyers, no interviews with the media, and no solemn burial.

Despite the claim of being short-handed, close to 50 PNP-BJMP personnel were deployed to La Funeraria Rey and the cemetery on Oct. 16. From accounts, the PNP-BJMP called the shots as to the day’s circumstances. There was no funeral procession — a ritual observed by many Filipinos still, in which the hearse proceeds from the wake to the cemetery at a stately pace followed by mourners on foot and others in vehicles trailing behind.

When the family’s anguished plea for the funeral ceremony to commence was finally heeded, the casket was brought down and loaded into the hearse. And then the hearse sped away to the cemetery, forcing the mourners to run to keep up — until they were no longer able to.

Thus did the state seize River from her mother, preventing a reunion even when the baby had fallen fatally ill; thus did it keep control of her corpse to the bitter end. Kapatid, the organization of family members of political prisoners, was quoted wearily wondering how this extraordinary cruelty could happen, on “this … day to bury a child whom the state deprived of a chance [to live].”

At the cemetery, under the sky’s unforgiving light, the Inquirer’s Marianne Bermudez takes the shot of the handcuffed Nasino gazing down at the baby that was torn from her embrace. Save for the two figures each with a hand to her head, the mother’s armed escorts are in postures suggesting indifference. Their faces are covered with masks and shields, and it’s unsure if they feel the sting of the unspeakable: A parent burying her child shatters the natural order of things. How much more outrage can be endured?

And can anything remotely like this tragedy occur if Nasino, who before her arrest helped make impoverished communities aware of the material conditions that keep them ignorant and powerless, were not of the same class? She is still to be tried for illegal possession of firearms and explosives—a charge she, her family, and her lawyers deny. Imelda Marcos was convicted of seven counts of graft yet law enforcers all but genuflect in her presence. The warlord Zaldy Ampatuan, charged with and later convicted of the murder of media workers and other civilians in Maguindanao, was given leave to attend a daughter’s wedding. Plunderers roam freely.

But online, certain quarters are portraying the 23-year-old Nasino as the sort of threat to national security targeted by the anti-terrorism law. One such, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority spokesperson Celine Pialago, had the nerve to call on those “sympathizing” with Nasino to “study why she was put behind bars” and “her role in society,” and to quit the “drama serye.” Incredibly, Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya declared: “Truth be told, it was the leftist groups who caused the tension during the wake when they suddenly vented their ire on the BJMP officers who were just doing their jobs.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called it as it is. In America at the height of the furor over the police killing of George Floyd, the NBA great wrote of black protesters as “people pushed to the edge” who “want to live, to breathe.” He added: “Worst of all is that we are expected to justify our outraged behavior every time the cauldron bubbles over.”#

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