Saturday, May 31, 2014

Three hours to mourn

Baby Diona Andrea died forty-eight hours after she was born.
According to an estimate by UNICEF, about 29,000 children under the age of five die every day, or 21 every minute. These children die mainly from preventable causes.
Baby Diona became another statistic that defies the human heart and mind, which puts this infant’s wretched fate upon us, or squarely on those who had the power and opportunity to have saved her from the pangs of death.
Preventable causes and needless circumstances, both make up the dynamic of life and death of children that slays the lives of the very young, and in baby Diona’s case, the single cause that nips the promise of a life of what might have been.
Andrea Rosal bids goodbye to daughter Diona Andrea. Photo by J. Elao,
By all means, the circumstances of baby Diona’s death were avoidable. More than a month and a half before she sprang to life in her mother’s womb, Diona’s mother, Andrea Rosal, along with two others were arrested by the military in a house in Caloocan City. The seven-month pregnant Andrea was going for a pre-natal check up at the time of the arrest.
Andrea is the daughter of the late spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal. With a communist father, so she must be one too, must have been the simple logic that presumably worked behind the mind of the military. Why can’t that same unintelligent thinking process work when one sees the picture of the President smiling with the pork barrel queen standing beside him? Or why not arrest me, too, here in the cozy comfort of Toronto for being friends in our younger days with the recently-captured communist rebel chiefs?
After her arrest, Andrea was confined in a crowded 10 x 5 detention cell along with 31 other prisoners. She chose to sleep on the cold cement floor because she could not climb the third deck of the bed bunk assigned to her. When she started complaining of contractions in her tummy, the prison guards simply ignored her and negligently deprived her of medical attention.
A high number of neonatal deaths occur largely in the developing world. More than 70 percent of almost 11 million child deaths every year are attributable to six causes: diarrhea, malaria, neonatal infection, pneumonia, preterm delivery, or lack of oxygen at birth.
While the majority of these deaths are preventable, others may be caused by marginalization, malnutrition, poverty or civil conflict which, though also escapable, may take time to overcome.
As barbaric and inhumane as Andrea’s captors could be, notwithstanding she was a woman seven months’ pregnant, the miserable jail conditions compounded her health issues. In fact, she even needed to go to court to get an order granting her to give birth at the Philippine General Hospital. After giving birth on May 17, her baby Diona experienced difficulties in breathing and had to be rushed to PGH’s neonatal intensive care unit. Barely two days old, baby Diona succumbed the following day due to pulmonary hypertension and lack of oxygen in her blood.
There are some, somewhat callous and insensitive, who even think that Andrea’s status as a political prisoner has no bearing on what type of accommodation or treatment she could have gotten from her captors, that other infants in the Philippines have similarly died even in worse circumstances. Exactly. The fact she was a political prisoner should not have figured in the decision-making process of her military captors.
But Andrea was a woman, detained in an overcrowded jail, seven months pregnant and needing urgent medical attention. That was enough to elicit a more humanitarian and sensible decision under the circumstances. And that was more than enough to consider transferring her to a more appropriate detention cell.
Forget she was a political prisoner and that she shared her father’s political ideology. There were two lives at risk here, that of the mother and her baby. It wasn’t the time of day to debunk the communist leanings of both of the baby’s ancestors.
As if to rub salt to the wound, Andrea was initially denied to spend time with her dead infant during her wake and funeral. What was she going to do, after all, that scared the wits of her military captors to allow her to pay respects to baby Diona?
Eventually, the court allowed Andrea three hours to spend with her dead child. Three short hours, not three mysterious days which the military might perhaps have suspected Andrea could use to resurrect baby Diona from her eternal sleep.
“It is not my fault that I am my father’s daughter. It was also not her fault that she was the granddaughter of my father,” Rosal told the media.
Here is Andrea’s declaration which she composed after the court made its decision regarding her request to attend her daughter’s wake and funeral.
“I was again denied the opportunity to spend more hours to be with my baby for the very last time. Three hours seem very short.
“It was all right if she were alive, even if we could see each other now for a short time, because I knew we would see each other again after I am released from prison. But this was the last time we could be together, that I could see her.
“You are also parents, and you understand what a mother feels for her child when they are separated even for a second. It is much worse in my case for I have lost my child forever.
“Before I was afraid of becoming a mother because I knew it would be hard. When I found out I was pregnant, it made very happy. I learned to take care of myself and be careful because I wanted my child to be healthy. But then I was arrested. The conditions in jail were hard, not just for me but also for my child.
“I felt so sad and anguished when my child died. They didn’t only prevent me from attending my child’s funeral, they gave me only a few hours to be at her wake. Isn’t it enough for me to lose my child?"
The moral principle behind the right to life is the belief that a human being has the right to live and should not be unjustly killed. And the life of a child, in this particular instance, is central to the question of morality of war or any civil conflict.
This child, baby Diona, was caught in the crossfire of an ongoing civil conflict between the government and the rebels. Call her death by any name, perhaps, as a collateral damage of this long-drawn conflict, but her death was unnecessary, unjust and inhumane. It is simple cruelty by any imaginable extent.
Under international humanitarian law, the right to life by a child has been upheld many times, thus it has been codified into the Convention on the Rights of the Child which came into force in September 1990. As indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”  
After baby Diona Andrea was laid to rest, Rosal's supporters chanted:
"Free Andrea Rosal!" Click to view
A Mother's Tale," a brief story  about another former detainee who went through a
similar plight as Andrea Rosal's.

The Convention under Article 2 expressly states that the right of each child to life must be respected, protected and ensured without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parents’ political or other opinion.
Andrea Rosal’s captors clearly breached international humanitarian laws when they prevented her from getting appropriate medical attention before she gave birth. Andrea did not demand that she be treated differently because she was the daughter of a former communist party leader. But her captors treated her as an enemy of the state and simply took no notice of the fact that she was a woman and seven months’ pregnant who needed urgent medical care.
Yet the pork barrel queen, Janet Napoles, who has defrauded the government of more than 10 billion pesos, has been afforded by the government with a comfortable jail cell and the best health care whenever she feigns she needs it. Andrea, on the other hand, didn’t steal a dime from the government and was genuinely struggling with her condition at the time. Her only crime was being a communist’s daughter.
The circumstances of baby Diona Andrea’s death should have aroused wide public condemnation, but the government-controlled media kept mum and dismissed her story as a non-event. Another horrifying story, the Boko Haram kidnapping of several young Nigerian school girls was denounced worldwide, and major governments of the world expressed their disapproval, which was of course to be expected. Countries of the world naturally come together to share their humanity whenever a horrendous event happens that shocks the conscience of humankind. Where was the public outcry in the case of baby Diona Andrea’s death?
Baby Diona was brought home to her mother’s hometown of Ibaan, Batangas. On the early morning of May 22, relatives, friends and sympathizers of Andrea Rosal marched from the Rosal family ancestral home in Barangay Talaibon to St. James the Greater Parish Church before heading to the baby’s final resting place at St. Mary Memorial Park.
Members of the Free Andrea Rosal Movement made a compact to “swear by baby Diona Andrea’s grave that justice will be served. Through collective efforts we will do everything to free her mother from the fangs of the devil that killed her and deprived her of her right to life.”
During the three-day summit in Toronto this week on Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper stepped up to the plate and identified foreign aid for maternal health as his Conservative government’s top international development priority.
Harper was hoping it could be his lasting legacy, this in addition to Canada’s customary role as a peacekeeper in the world. He said, “There is a moral imperative to saving the lives of vulnerable women and children in some of the poorest countries around the world when it is in our power to do so.”
It’s easy to put words in one’s mouth but all these words are useless if not reinforced with deeds. For starters, the Prime Minister perhaps can find time to remember what happened to baby Diona Andrea by showing his indignation, and in the end, also help her mother Andrea Rosal recover from the trauma of losing her infant child.

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