Tensions ran high at a program to honor baby River, deceased daughter of a detained activist, after cops dispersed the crowd and tried to confiscate their protest materials outside the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Santo Niño de Tondo Tuesday night.

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The supporters gathered outside the church with candles, photos, tarpaulins, streamers, and the like as Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo offered a mass to mark the 40th day after baby River’s passing.

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Videos taken by Karapatan, a human rights group, showed uniformed personnel and some in plain clothes forcefully tugging the protest materials from the supporters.

Police officers were also seen telling people to maintain physical distancing amid the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Marites Asis, baby River’s grandmother, said she was surprised by the size of the crowd and stressed that she is not trying to challenge anyone in her pursuit of justice for her daughter, detained activist Reina Mae Nasino.

“Makalaya lang ang anak ko, ‘yon lang ang akin. Walang kaliwa, walang kanan. Justice lang po ang kailangan. At karapatang pantao (I just want my daughter to be released, that’s the only thing I want. No left, no right. Only justice is needed. And human rights),” she told reporters.

Nasino and two other activists were arrested in November 2019 for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives at the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Manila Office in Tondo, Manila.

She gave birth to her underweight daughter on July 1 at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Medical Hospital on July 1 and was returned to the Manila City Jail 48 hours later.

On August 13, the activist-mother was ordered to turn her child over to her relatives after Manila RTC Branch 20 Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali denied her motion to stay with River at the hospital or a prison nursery for at least a year for breastfeeding purposes.

Balisi-Umali said the Manila City Jail had very limited resources for the care of her child.

River was admitted at the Philippine General Hospital for fever and diarrhea on September 24. She was placed in the intensive care unit on October 9 where she died a few hours later.

A few hours before her daughter died, Nasino filed a very urgent motion for furlough so she can be with her child in her dying moments.

On October 13, Manila RTC Branch 47 Judge Paulino Gallegos granted her three full days from October 14 to 16 to be by her daughter’s side during the wake and burial.

This was eventually trimmed down to only six hours from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on October 14 and 16 after receiving opposition from the Manila City Jail, that cited its lack of personnel, health concerns, and a guideline stating that detainees can only be at their loved ones’ burial and wake for a maximum of three hours.

Nasino was clad in a full set of personal protective equipment, handcuffed, and flanked by numerous uniformed personnel during both the wake and funeral.

During the wake, her escorts tried to pull her away twice before her time was up, eventually escorting her out with 20 minutes to spare before 4 p.m.

On October 16, Asis had to kneel and beg in front of the police to allow them to hold funeral at 11:30 a.m. The cops wanted to delay it until 1 p.m.

Police also sped off with River’s hearse to the Manila North Cemetery, leaving her family behind and stopping activists from conducting a caravan around the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals before burying her at the cemetery.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Philippine National Police, and Department of Interior and Local Government, among others, defended the uniformed personnel’s actions, saying that they were only ensuring order and safety during the wake and burial. They also denied that the number of personnel deployed was “overkill.”

Nasino’s legal counsels, meanwhile, have filed manifestations before the Manila RTC to denounce how the detained activist was treated during her furloughs and vowed to take further legal action against those involved.

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