We Take a Stand

The Case Of Baby River: A Balanced View

5 min read

By Raymund Narag | Published: October 24, 2020


The death of Baby River was a tragic event.

His mother was a Person Deprived of Liberty (PDL) accused of a non-bailable offense. He was born underweight (less than 6 pounds) and he was able to stay only for a month with his mother in the jail she was residing before they were separated.

Baby River stayed with his grandmother and died two months later. He perished most likely due to complications from malnutrition.

Media Coverage

The media coverage of the wake and funeral of Baby River was equally disheartening.

The optics look bad — the non-removal of the handcuffs, the rushed funeral, the overall lack of dignity in their reunion.


Long-Standing Problem
The death of Baby River highlights the long-standing problems affecting our jail and prison facilities.

Our facilities are the most crowded in the world where our average congestion rate is around 300 percent.

The Manila City Jail Female Dormitory, where Baby River’s mother stayed, has a congestion rate more than twice the national average.

Despite our government’s commitment to follow the Bangkok Rules that mandates for the provison of facilities, such as nurseries and lactation areas for detained mothers, our government barely provides for these basic necessities.


Structural Shortfall

To be fair, this structural deficit had been recurring in the past 50 years, even during the time of President Marcos and worsened with succeeding governments that followed.

Despite these structural deficits, the jail personnel try their best to provide quality service.

In my 20 years of ongoing research and advocacy with the Jail Bureau, I had seen how they compensate the lack of facilities, personnel and resources by contributing their own money, energy and resources for the upkeep of the jail and the PDLs.


Emotional Labor

I have seen firsthand wardens pay for the medicines, milk, diapers, and other basic needs when mothers are incarcerated with their children.

I have witnessed jail officers go beyond the call of duty to reach out to the members of the family of the detained individuals to keep them updated of their situations, help in their legal needs, and address the root cause of their offending behaviors.

Without the emotional labor they provide, according to Prof. Hanna Nario-Lopez of the UP Department of Sociology, the jail and prison system would collapse.

Best Intent

Thus while the optics in the funeral of Baby River is truly unacceptable, we should also not demonize the jail officers who work within the limited system.

Though much have to be improved in terms of the protocols (more below) when PDLs are allowed to go to a funeral, we should try to see the bigger context on why things happen.

That is, the structural limitations of our jail facilities (lack of personnel, resources, space) limits the organizational capacity of the agencies of the government to deliver a quality service, despite the best intentions of the people working in the system.

Structural Condition.
Which leads us to the following policy implication: to avoid the occurences of many more Baby Rivers in the future, our society and government should address the structural conditions first.

We need to improve our jail and prison facilities. Though some local governments had responded to the call, many still have relegated the jails as forgotten issues.

The Manila City Government, with our energetic Mayor Isko Moreno, should pay a visit to the Manila City Jail Female Dorm so he can see first hand the situations therein.

We need to have jails that meet the United Nations Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners, or the so called Mandela Rules.

Especially for women facilities, nursery areas, lactation rooms and health clinics should be provided.

The international community realizes the importance of having the mothers nurse their child especially in the first two years of life so that the kids can be physically, emotionally and psychologically stable.

Temporary Furlough. Second, the BJMP as an institution, must create protocols for the temporary furlough of individuals in special situations. The custodial needs of the agency must be balanced with the legal and humanitarian needs of the clients.

In this regard, the Bureau must develop and implement a tool for crimingenic risk and classification assessments that can emprically guide them on the nature and level of supervision to provide.

Without these, the clients may be “overclassified”, that is, placing too heavy considerations for custodial risks, that will now result to extensive and excessive supervision and surveillance.

This may eventually translate to negative perceptions as an “abusive state” despite the fact that the presumed goal is the preservation of public safety.

Pre-Trial Detention. Third, our court system should truly evaluate the length of pretrial detention. The mother of Baby River is still presumed innocent as she has not have been found guilty by the trial court.

Yet, she had been in jail for more than a year, already penalized by the length of litigation.

In my ongoing study, PDLs stay in jail for an average of 529 days before their cases are disposed. This prolonged trial detention eventually leads to jail crowding which, as mentioned, compound the problem of detained mothers with children.

As a remedy, I had been advocating for the released of low risk first time offenders, and offenders with special medical conditions, to be released under supervision.

Courts can assign these individuals to Non-Govermental Organizations who are willing to monitor, mentor and support these individuals upon release.

The released PDLs will be made sure that they will attend court hearings and that they will not jump bail.

Our NGO, the Preso Inc, had partnered with several courts and PAO lawyers to supervise these individuals.

Our current data suggest that we have 92 percent success rate. (Please visit www.presocbb.org for stories and how to partner with us).

A Wake Up Call

The death of Baby River should be a wake up call to every Filipino.

The outpouring of sympathy to the plight of Baby River and her mother is an indication that we Filipinos are still guided by our cultural value of “awa.”

I fully believe, based on my ongoing research, that the BJMP personnel have practised and integrated awa, bayanihan and damayan in the delivery of jail services.

Thus, instead of demonizing and portraying them as the bad guys, we should also recognize their efforts and extend our sympathies as they peform their garguantuan duties in the face of limited governmental and societal support.

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