“Hindi naman rally yan, hindi naman nanggugulo,” Archdiocese of Manila apostolic administrator Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo told police trying to disperse the attendees of the mass held 40 days since Baby River’s death.
Police personnel were scattered around Santo Niño de Tondo Parish before the mass started and gathered in front of the church as the relatives and supporters of political prisoner Reina Nasino exited the church.
While human rights and youth groups unfolded the banner bearing the call “Justice for Baby River” and “Justice for all the victims of Duterte’s Terrorism,” several police forcibly nabbed the protest signages, ensuing in what seemed like in a tug-of-war.
The relatives and supporters of Baby River and her mother Nasino only wanted to hold a short and solemn program so those outside the church and were unable to join the mass due to the capacity limits imposed under COVID-19 government response guidelines may remember Baby River and what she went through in the less than three months of her life.
Bishop Pabillo contested that the people are to abide the health protocols by observing physical distancing only that they should not be violently interrupted. He also made an example of the pool of media personnel who are conducting an interview of him.
“Tulad ng ganito, pwede tayong lapitan dito sabihan na hindi nagso-social distancing. Kung talagang maghahanap ng butas, maghahanap ka ng butas,” Bishop Pabillo said.
The bishop hoped that people will continue their support to Baby River’s family, knowing that Nasino is still behind the bars, arrested and detained since November 2019 on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
“Nagpapahayag din ‘yong mga tao, ibig sabihin talagang mabigat pa sa loob ng mga tao. Kaya kahit ganitong mga pangyayari, marami pa ring dumalo para sa 40 days na misang ito. Sana hindi mawala dahil nandyan pa rin ang nanay na nakakulong, sana talagang lumabas ang katotohanan,” Bishop Pabillo added.
Marites Asis, Nasino’s mother, also expressed her frustration over the incident.
“Ayaw ko kasing umabot sa ganito ang pagdadalamhati naming pamilya. Kaya ko lang din dinala rito, kasi gusto laming magpasalamat at si bishop ang nagmisa,” Asis lamented.
“Kabastusan, hindi lamang sa alaala ni River kung hindi sa karapatan natin magpahayag ng ating mga saloobin hinggil sa mga nangyayari sa atin ngayong panahon,” said National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Metro Manila secretary general Atty. Katherine Panguban, who stood as one of Nasino’s legal counsel.
Atty. Panguban said that there was no basis to the claims of the police that they are dispersing the groups because of lack of permit.
“Hinahapan nila kami ng permit pero alam naman natin na hindi iyon kailangan because this is a public place,” Atty. Panguban said.
Despite the incident, the program continued with a cultural performance from Musicians for Peace, a group of musicians that Nasino joined while she was still in college.
Candles were lit to form the word “Justice” beside photos of baby River.
Baby River was born on July 1, after her mother spent almost her entire pregnancy in jail and was not released on her petition on humanitarian grounds given a pregnant woman’s vulnerability to COVID-19 in the congested Manila City Jail. River and mother was not allowed to be together longer than a month and was separated in August. Baby River’s condition turned for the worse as she was confined in late September and died on October 9. Nasino’s furlough to visit River’s funeral and join her burial was marked with heavy police escorts who took control of the baby’s burial.