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  • By C.J. Urquico

Not like this: The death of an infant, the death of Philippine democracy

Covered in PPE, human rights activist Reina Mae Nasino pays her final goodbye to three-month-old baby. Photo courtesy of Kapatid

They dressed her up in full PPE and handcuffs and brought her to the funeral parlor to say her final goodbye to her child.

Don't turn away. It was all too painful to watch. Go ahead, cry. I am. It hurts.

The wake for the infant named River, severed from the activist mother at birth, started on Oct. 14. The three-month-old was born of a mother imprisoned for protesting against human rights violations. Reina Mae Nasino, the 23-year-old frail mother, spent her pregnancy at the Manila City Jail. She was allowed a month before they tore the newborn from her arms, and two months later, the baby is dead.

"It's painful for me; I was really longing to see my baby, but not like this," Nasino said.

Don't tune her out. The Philippine National Police arrested Nasino in a coordinated nationwide attack against human rights groups in November 2019.

They “furloughed” her for three days for a proper send-off. They then rescinded it to six hours, citing limited human resources. The Philippines exports labor almost more than any other country in the world.

Politicians, on the other hand, receive VIP treatment in the best suite of hospitals.

It takes a special kind of evil to deprive a mother of her dead baby.

Nasino lived in Tondo, the office for Kadamay, the activist group that helps the homeless and urban poor. She served in Smokey Mountain, the old landfill for the megalopolis of greed in Manila. I say “lived” because political prisoners don't have any release dates. The charges trump up, and the hearings never happen.

Ask the Marcoses. Collective gaslighting is turning the country into a George Orwell novel. Look at what happened to former justice secretary, former senator, Leila de Lima. Someone so prominent and years later, still imprisoned. Kafka, can you hear me?

I've been to the best and worst parts of Tondo, including Smokey Mountain, when the landfill was still, for lack of a worse word, operational. The first thing that hits you is the smell. It was horrific, and my cousin, who was campaigning with me for our uncle at the time, gave me Chinese menthol ointment called “White Flower” to rub around my nostrils. And Vicks Vaporub too from another cousin. At 14, seeing the poorest parts of the Philippines helped shape my worldview.

The same uncle running for city councilor showed me the cruelty that some wealthy people can display even when they are at their finest.


Uncle “He Cannot Be Named” talked about his Dunkin' Donuts franchise that had three branches in Manila's impoverished areas. It was late at night, and the stale unsold donuts had to be thrown away. A boy, maybe seven-years-old approached and begged. I was pulling money out of my pocket when my uncle glared at me and, with his superbly shined patent leather shoes, stepped on the boy's bare feet.

I didn't like my uncle after that.

He lost the elections.

Now, the weight of the entire government stepping on the heart of a mother whose N95 mask was too big to fit her face. The troll farm is working overtime. They call Reina a communist. New People's Army. Cop killer. None of which is proven, and I'd venture to say, invented by social media trolls. Much like the ongoing mass killing of suspected drug users, she's in trouble because she's poor.

Everyone who continues to let this happen is complicit. Enabling trolls drives a lot of us to give up. But not everyone. Remember EDSA. We invented the peaceful revolution.

Our collective silence enables the continuous looting of fundamental rights and freedoms, hell, our basic humanity, to have empathy for a mother who lost her child.

I'm very sorry, Reina. I'm sorry, River. Both of you did not deserve this. Our country does not deserve this level of cruelty.

I have a deep love for the country where I was born and raised. There are some days that I can't recognize the place or the people anymore. The Filipino has changed to a meaner and less forgiving people.

But not this.


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