Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, reminded the country’s national police force to always “follow the commands of God.”
The prelate made the call during Mass in Manila on November 17 for Baby River, the three-month-old daughter of detained activist Reina Mae Nasino, who died last month.
“[To the police] here today, may you bring order instead of chaos, and do not make up allegations [against us],” said Bishop Pabillo in his homily.
“Follow God’s commandments above the orders of your chiefs, who, in most times are just telling you what to do,” said the bishop.
Several police officers tried to disperse a crowd outside a church in Tondo, Manila, during the Mass to mark the 40th day since the death of Baby River
Nasino, who gave birth to Baby River on July 1 in detention, is a 23-year-old urban poor community organizer who was arrested by the police last year on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
A few days after the infant’s birth, she was taken away from her mother after the courts denied the detainee’s petition to post bail and stay in hospital.
Nasino sought either hospital arrest with her child or a provision of a special prison nursery, citing the unhealthy conditions at the city jail and the coronavirus pandemic.
On September 24, Baby River was hospitalized due to pneumonia.
The baby’s short life and death has caused tension between the police and activists.
Human rights groups hit authorities for the overwhelming police presence during the baby’s wake and funeral.
“The presence of the people here today, of the media, and of the police, only shows that there is something wrong with our system,” said Bishop Pabillo in his homily,
“There is something wrong with the system, that’s why even after 40 days, the remembrance of Baby River is still as intense,” added the prelate.
He said “there is something wrong with the system” that arrested Nasino based on allegations, the same system that separated her from her child after giving birth.
“Has humanity left us? If we are then to be legalistic, when we use the law not to help but rather to oppress our people, this is what happens,” said Bishop Pabillo.
He said the law has become “unfair” because “it is making ways to charge the innocent.”
The bishop urged the faithful to stand their ground “for truth” and not to be carried away by “lies and anger.”
“The police are here to bring peace and not distress because our gathering here in the church is not lawless, we are here to pray,” said the bishop.
“That wasn’t a rally, it was not even chaotic,” said Bishop Pabillo when informed about the dispersal.
“They should’ve let the people express their anger as it was still heavy for them,” he said.
“I don’t get why people needed the permission of the police to express their opinions and thoughts,” added the bishop.
Meanwhile, families and friends of political detainees expressed their gratitude to Bishop Pabillo for celebrating Mass.
“It’s very touching because when we told him about our situation, he heard us,” said Marites Asis, mother of Nasino.
“It felt as if I was confessing to him about my feelings on my daughter’s illegal arrest and the death of my granddaughter,” said Asis.
Kapatid, a support group for political prisoners, also thanked the Catholic Church for “not turning its back” and for “remaining true to the values of compassion and humanity.”
“We are bolstered by the commitment of the Church and all other groups to continue working for justice,” said Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid.
At least 25 bishops and priests across the Philippines offered prayers and Mass intentions on November 17 to mark the 40th day since Baby River died.