From her cell in Manila City Jail, political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino could only view the remains of her baby via video call. Her three-month-old baby, River, passed away on October 9 after her lungs succumbed to bacterial infection. The baby was brought to the Manila Medical Center on September 24 after showing Covid-19-like symptoms. She tested negative for the disease, but was diagnosed with and later died of pneumonia.
This tragedy comes as the United Nations observes this November the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Accountability for the cruel circumstances leading to River’s death lies in the Duterte regime. Baby River was forcibly separated from her mother a month following her birth last July 1. Even with numerous appeals to the court when Baby River’s health entered a critical state, her mother had not been allowed to visit. Up to now, Nasino is yet to be granted furlough so she can be with her baby for the last time. This is in sharp contrast to Sen. Bong Revilla’s case who was granted the chance to visit his ailing father four times even when he was incarcerated for plunder and graft.
In November last year, Nasino, a community organizer, was unjustly imprisoned on trumped-up charges during the regime’s crackdown on activists who are falsely tagged and persecuted as members or supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA). The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict serves as the instigator of these attacks.
Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign to end the ongoing armed conflict has become an all-out war that also targets unarmed civilians, turning most atrocious when it includes children in its dirty war. These blatantly violate the children’s rights to special protection from hostilities.
In the past two years, at least four infants and a toddler have fallen victim to the Duterte regime’s dirty war.
On February 14, 2019, three-month-old Baby Zhia was included in the illegal arrest of her mother Lorena Micabalo in Tagum City. Soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Battalion raided Micabalo’s house and brought mother and daughter to the 1st SFB camp in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon where Lorena was forced to surrender. The severe distress, coupled with lack of proper child care inside the military camp, took its toll on Baby Zhia. The child died several weeks after being under the 1st SFB’s custody.
In January 2019, two children aged 1 and 2 years old underwent severe stress when soldiers and police raided the office of Misamis Oriental Farmers Association in Brgy. Looc, Villanueva, Misamis Oriental, and illegally arrested activist farmers with whom they were staying. The raiding team pointed their weapons at the children, practically held them hostage, to force the farmers to stop protesting the arrest.
The children were subsequently separated from their guardians and were confined at the local DSWD office until protests and indignations forced the agency to release the children to their families.
In Negros island during the dark days of Oplan Sauron, seven individuals were killed on July 25, 2019. One of the victims was Baby Marjon Ramos, who was shot when armed men strafed their home while the family was asleep. His father was also killed, and his mother and another young sibling were severely wounded.
In the wee hours of February 7 this year, a one-year-old baby was likewise not spared from the trauma when her activist mother Marissa Cabaljao was illegally arrested along with four others in a raid by the military and police at the People Surge office in Tacloban City. At the time of the arrest, Baby Malaya was left to chill in the cold as the raiding unit forbade the victims to fetch clothing to warm themselves. Lacking sleep, the baby was distressed while under police custody for several hours until Marissa’s family demanded to take her in later that day.
Many other forms of attacks by the Duterte regime beset Filipino children. They also suffer the most from forcible closures of Lumad schools, forcible evacuations due to military occupations of communities, and aerial and artillery bombardments.
Nearly 180 Lumad self-organized community schools catering to 5,000 students have been shut down by the regime. Duterte himself has threatened to drop bombs on these schools.
In the airstrikes last August in Brgy. Buhawen in San Marcelino, Zambales, the majority of the 660 Aeta refugees are children. Four others were illegally arrested on the false charge of being NPA members.