Palace reminds critics: Protests banned due to COVID-19

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 22 2020 02:56 PM | Updated as of Oct 22 2020 03:02 PM

A woman holds a photograph of Filipino activist Reina Mae Nasino and her 3-month-old baby River, who died while she was in jail, during a vigil in Quezon City, Oct. 21, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA— Malacañang on Thursday reminded its critics to refrain from expressing dissent through mass protests, as these remain banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Recent mass actions scored the government for the anti-terror law that would allegedly violate rights, and the detention of activist Reina Mae Nacino, whose 3-month-old baby died. 

"Ang karapatan ng malayang pananalita ay garantyado po ng ating Saligang Batas. Gayunman... panahon po ng COVID-19 at kahit kayo po ay lumalaban at kalaban ng gobyerno, pinangangalagaan po natin ang iyong kalusugan," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters. 

(The right to free speech is guaranteed in the Constitution. However, the COVID-19 crisis is ongoing, and even if you fight and are an enemy of the government, we still have to protect your health.)

"Pakiusap po, sundin natin: hanggang 10 tao lang po ang pagtitipon-tipon dahil ayaw po namin kayong magkasakit. Maski kayo po ay walang ginawa kundi labanan ang gobyerno, Pilipino pa rin po kayo at may obligasyon pa rin po kaming isalba kayo kung kayo'y magkakasakit," he added. 

(I request that you observe the 10-people limit on gatherings because we don't want you to get sick. Even if you do nothing but fight the government, you are still Filipinos and we have an obligation to save you should you get sick.)

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Heavily armed jail officers guarding Nasino during her daughter's funeral last week refused to uncuff her despite pleas from her family and human rights supporters, who decried what they described as inhumane treatment of the detained activist and other mothers in Philippine jails.

Nasino, a member of the urban poor group Kadamay, was arrested in November 2019 with two others for unlawful possession of firearms - charges she said were trumped up and part of a crackdown against left-leaning activists.

In April, she petitioned the Supreme Court to release her from jail on humanitarian grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Nasino gave birth while in jail in July, but her baby, River, was removed from her care and brought to her mother (the baby's grandmother) in August. The following month, her baby got sick and was hospitalized, prompting calls for mother and child to be reunited. 

Nasino did not get to see River again until her death. 

Wearing a full-body protective suit while standing in the heat of the sun, Nasino told her baby: "I hope we will be the last to experience this."

The solemn occasion turned chaotic as jail officers in camouflage uniforms dispersed the funeral procession and told the hearse carrying the coffin to speed up, forcing mourners to run after the vehicle.

"I thought we would have a proper burial with family and friends, but I was traumatized. My other daughter nearly fainted while chasing the car," said Nasino's mother Marites.

"I am so angry that we could not even give my grandchild a proper procession and we could not even play the music she liked."

- With a report from Reuters