DILG chief defends security personnel amid backlash on Baby River’s wake, burial

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 19)— In light of the backlash from rights groups and netizens, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Monday defended the security personnel who escorted detained activist Reina Mae Nasino during the wake and burial of her infant, saying the officials on the ground were just “doing their job professionally.”

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Año said the personnel of Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) were just abiding by their “primary objective” of guaranteeing Nasino’s safety— and ensuring that she is brought back safely to the custodial facility following the furlough.

“Our BJMP officers are professional people who are just doing their job,” Año said in an interview with The Source. “We regret what happened, but I will stand by with my people at the BJMP. They’re just doing their job professionally.”

The case of Nasino and her three-month old daughter Baby River — who was laid to rest on Friday — sparked outrage from rights groups, netizens, and even government officials, with critics calling out security authorities for their unfair treatment of the grieving mother.

Reports, footages and photos have surfaced over social media, showing the 23-year-old Nasino, handcuffed and wrapped in a protective gear for most of her visit. Some incidents had led to commotions, like when officers tried to whisk away Nasino in the middle of her media interview at the wake.

RELATED: Treatment toward political prisoner during baby's wake, burial an 'overkill' — Robredo

The BJMP had said it will look into its personnel’s actions during Nasino’s hours-long furlough.

Año, for his part, assured that appropriate sanctions will be imposed should authorities find violations.

“Nevertheless, pinatitingnan ko rin kung meron silang naging violations diyan sa behavior nila, para we will also apply appropriate sanctions," he said. "But the way I saw it, talagang they’re just doing their job properly.”

[Translation: Nevertheless, I gave instructions to look into possible violations in their behavior, so that we can also apply appropriate sanctions. But the way I saw it, they were really just doing their job properly.]

Addressing the same issue, Malacañang said it will respect the decision of authorities on the ground regarding what security arrangement they deemed necessary at the time.

The DILG chief, meanwhile, lamented how Nasino’s case— which he described as “simple” and “ordinary”— has been blown up in media.

“It was supposed to be a solemn occasion," he said. "We also sympathize and condole with the family of Nasino. Pero hindi siya naging solemn eh dahil dinumog ng tao, dinumog ng media (it didn't become solemn because it was mobbed by people, mobbed by the media).

Nasino and her two colleagues were arrested in the office of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan on Nov. 5, 2019 for possession of guns and explosives. She said the evidence against her was planted and vowed to continue the fight against injustice for the sake of her child.

Drama serye? ‘Not the stand of MMDA’

Meanwhile, Jojo Garcia, general manager of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), said the recent controversial comments of the agency's spokesperson, Celine Pialago, about Nasino’s case do not represent the views of the MMDA.

Garcia stressed that Pialago’s remark — which slammed critics for supposedly creating “drama” over Nasino’s plight — is only her personal opinion, adding that the assistant secretary is “responsible enough” to handle this situation.

“I talked to her already, napaliwanag niya... Nagsalita siya at her own capacity, this is not the stand of MMDA,” Garcia said in a media forum. “Kung may personal opinion siya, it's her right to say that pero of course may positive o negative comments.”

[Translation: I talked to her already, she explained her side. She spoke at her own capacity, this is not the stand of MMDA. It’s her right to say her personal opinion, but of course, there will be positive or negative comments.]

Malacanang also took a hands-off approach on the issue, saying that Pialago’s comment was not related to MMDA matters.

A portion of Pialago’s Facebook post on Sunday read, “Masyado niyong ginagawang pang drama serye sa hapon ang paghihinagpis niya. Tigilan niyo!” (You’re turning her suffering into a drama series. Stop it!)

The comment drew flak from netizens, fellow officials, and even celebrities, who slammed the insensitive and “heartless” remark of the official.