The Supreme Court (SC) received at least four petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 filed physically on July 23 at its office in Padre Faura in Manila following a three-day closure for disinfection–a lawyers’ group said the petitions may reach as many as 20.
A day before, the SC was reminded of another petition “long-pending” for the release of 22 elderly and sick political prisoners.
“Whatever happened to the petition we filed for prisoners like Reina Mae Nasino? Only the SC can break this impasse for all those who are asking for simple compassion and mercy because they are already very sick and old, or who like Reina Mae simply want to be on the side of their baby when she cries to be fed,” political prisoners’ kin group KAPATID reminded.
The petition filed on April 8 by 22 political prisoners asked the SC’s “compassionate intervention” and “exercise of equity jurisdiction” for the “humanitarian” release of prisoners most at risk from COVID-19, especially inside the country’s congested jails.
Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta told the group the petition could be decided on June 16.
They made the statement following the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 20’s order to separate Nasino from her 23-day old baby.
The group also cited the recent statement made by Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año who said that of the nearly 22,000 prisoners released amid the pandemic, 409 were elderly, 621 were sick, and 24 were pregnant.
“The DILG made mention about pregnant prisoners who were released, but Reina Mae was 6 months pregnant when the pandemic hit the Philippines and its highly congested prisons. Is there a separate law for political prisoners?” the group questioned.
KAPATID assailed the “unequal treatment, cruel and unusual punishment of continued imprisonment for a young political prisoner who doesn’t even deserve a single day in jail.”
Earlier, Año said on March 23, a week into the lockdown, that it is safer inside the detention cells “than outside mingling with the rest of the population,” in reaction to calls to release political prisoners, first-time and low-risk offenders.
“Contrary to the claims of some sectors, we have, in fact, the best intentions for [persons deprived of liberty] that is why they should remain in jails. They will be more vulnerable and exposed to the virus if they are released at this time. All prison detention cells are COVID-free. That is the safest place right now,” Año said then.
The branch of court handling the case of Nasino sustained the motion of the Manila City Jail (MCJ) Officer-In-Charge (OIC) that “the baby be turned over to her father or any relative, who could take care of her better because the jail does not have sufficient facility for the care of the baby.”
Nasino, along with Bayan Manila Campaign Director Ram Carlo Bautista and Manila Workers Unity staff Alma Moran, were arrested in an ‘office raid’ on November 5, 2019. They were presented with a search warrant, arrested, detained and charged with ‘illegal possession of firearms and explosives’ that their groups and lawyers asserted were ‘planted evidence.’
They were arraigned for these charges on July 22, also the time lawyers and Nasino found out about her pending separation from her baby.
The court denied the petition of Nasino’s lawyers for her and her baby to be moved to a hospital for a year or be provided sufficient facilities to allow Nasino to breastfeed. The order supported the MCJ OIC’s comment to the petition that the jail do not have enough personnel to provide escort to Nasino and her baby if they would be moved to a hospital.
“Breastmilk, according to the [World Health Organization], remains the best source of nutrition for infants because it provides protection against many illnesses and it is not likely to be a source of virus transmission,” KAPATID decried.
KAPATID said there are 53 elderly and 95 sick political prisoners, among a total of 653 political prisoners in the country.