Doctrine divides, Action unites

 

  May 2014

 

Andrea and Diona: A Heart-Wrenching Story

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
 


Andrea Rosal holds her baby daughter Diona
for the first and only time.

I think that for non-Filipino readers it’s important to give a bit of context about Andrea Rosal, 31 years old. She’s (in)famous for being the daughter of Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, the late spokesperson of the New People’s Army (NPA), who avoided being captured by the government until he passed away. As a child, at only 5 years old, she was kidnapped by government forces to put pressure on her father to surrender the armed struggle. However, she herself has never been proven as a member of the NPA or Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). This didn’t stop the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces (ISAF) to arrest her on March 27 on the grounds of murder and kidnapping.

During the arrest at 7:00 a.m., she was in the company of a friend and the house owner of her temporary residence. Both were also arrested, even though Andrea was the only one named on the arrest warrant. The agents, composed of both NBI and ISAF agents, were 20 in number and dressed in full battle gear. The entrances to her residence were barricaded by vehicles, and agents stormed into the house. Even though the agents were in superior numbers and equipped with state of the art gear, she (remember that she is seven months pregnant) was told to “not fight back.” She describes the experience as being akin to a kidnapping, being completely overwhelmed and taken away to a temporary detention cell.

Once locked up, she never got a formal interrogation. She was not even allowed to read the full arrest warrant before it was grabbed away from her. The agents were at first very kind to her. This tactic was their scheme to convince her to “join their side.” She was asked nicely to divulge information on her assumed fellow NPA-CPP leaders, despite the complete lack of evidence that she is a member of these organizations.

After their attempts turned up nothing, the treatment changed. The agents showed surveillance pictures of her, some of them months old, showing that they could have arrested her earlier if they would have wanted. The reason for this delay was, according to the agents, that they were sure that she would lead them to high-ranking members of the armed rebels. When asked about her arrest, the agents plainly said that it was for political reasons. She was told that “it’s because you look like your father.” The original accusations of murder and kidnapping are vague at best, and most likely false.

She got the obligatory tests for pregnant women, including a blood test and an ultrasound, done at the Manila Medical Center and was afterwards thrown into a shared detention cell at the NBI. This cell was shared with 30 other inmates. She filed a demand to the court for immediate hospitalization at Philippine General Hospital with the help of human rights groups, such as Karapatan and Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR), but this request was denied for unclear reasons. The need for solid medical attention could be assumed to be very logical, but not so in the case of Andrea Rosal. After a week of detention, she was told to pack her belongings. While it was hinted that she would be transferred to a hospital, she actually was moved to the prison facility of Camp Bagong Diwa in Bitucan in Taguig City, a part of Metro Manila.

Here the real trouble started. This prison is already a hard place in which to live for regular prisoners; but for a pregnant woman, it was a living hell. Just about everything was unsuitable for her condition. Thirty-one women, some of them political prisoners but some of them also regular criminals, had to share a small cell intended for 24 prisoners. The three-storied bunk beds proved to be too uncomfortable for Andrea to sleep on as the sheet metal base of the beds was warped and bended, leaving her no room for her belly. It was actually preferable to sleep on the ground.

A problem without such a solution came in the form of food. While it was sufficient, the quality of the food was lacking. The staple diet was fish with rice, and usually the fish was undercooked or so poor in quality that it made Andrea (and the other inmates) sick. Fearing for the health of her unborn child, she often made it through the day on only rice.

She encountered the same problem with water—called “criminal water” by the inmates—which was not potable and was very polluted. Even though she boiled the water, diarrhea was unavoidable. Furthermore, the cell was on the fourth floor, was blisteringly hot and had a serious lack of ventilation. Andrea was refused the right to buy an extra fan to cool herself, and the 31 women had to share two bathrooms.

The biggest problem for Andrea during her detention, however, was the lack of medical attention. Even though she was due to give birth during the third or fourth week of May, the medical check-ups by the prison doctor were limited to measuring her blood pressure and asking her how she felt. The only real medical help came from HAHR, which provides health care to political detainees. Dr. Beng Rivera-Reyes, who looked after Andrea’s general well-being, and Dr. Cruz, who provided obstetric and gynecological aid, would visit her as often as possible. Their work was limited by the prison equipment: no specific tools to examine her pregnancy were available, and they were lucky if basic equipment, such as a stethoscope, was allowed to be brought into the detention facility. Andrea moreover suffered from a weak stomach and was affected by rashes. While medication was prescribed, the prison’s nurses actually refused to give it to her as they told Andrea she was “lying” and she had caused it herself or that it would go away without medication.

On May 15, after six weeks of detention, a judge finally approved her request for hospitalization as she had begun to experience contractions. In the evening, she was transferred to Philippine General Hospital in Manila. There she was told that she didn’t have records in the hospital and that she could thus not be admitted. They arranged laboratory tests and an ultrasound, which is the standard operating procedure. Afterwards, she was taken back to jail, only to be brought back to the hospital the following day. At 11:00 p.m., she went into labor. It was a difficult delivery as it took eight hours for the baby to be born. At 7:00 a.m. on May 17, Diona was born.

As I didn’t want to ask Andrea details about the daughter she had just lost, I later contacted Dr. Rivera-Reyes. While she did not treat Diona, she could share some of the complications that happened after her birth. The baby was delivered not breathing and not moving, although there was a heartbeat. The baby was resuscitated, connected to a respirator and taken to the intensive care unit. However, the lack of oxygen had caused too much damage, and Diona condition’s further worsened over the following hours. In the morning of May 18, the hypoxemia had caused her to start seizing, implying brain damage. By the early afternoon, her heart stopped beating; and after attempts to resuscitate, she was declared dead at just past 4:00 p.m.

When asked about the correlation between the conditions in which Andrea had been suffering the last seven weeks and the condition of the baby upon birth, Dr. Rivera-Reyes could not say with certainty that it had caused the baby’s death.

However, she stated that, “even if the baby was delivered healthy, the conditions in which Andrea Rosal had to live have been a disgrace. She was not in the proper environment for a pregnant woman; she did not get the necessary nutrition. And without a doubt, the unreasonable delay after her request for hospitalization at the beginning of April and the unacceptable requirements that were imposed to finally allow her to be brought to a hospital have not improved her situation. The AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] says they are innocent concerning the death of Diona; but at the very least, they are responsible for the condition of Andrea and the environment she was put in.”

Even during the interview with Andrea, we were under the watchful eye of her prison guards. A full rotation of eight guards, two of them armed with submachine guns, makes sure that this woman, who just lost her baby, doesn’t leave her room.

After Diona was delivered, she was taken to the intensive care unit. Andrea had to request her guards to let her visit her baby so she could at least see her. Following Diona’s passing, she once again had to request to be able to see her daughter before she was taken to the morgue. She asked that a picture be taken with her daughter—their first and last since the baby was born. Both times she was handcuffed to walk the short distance and accompanied by all eight members of the team.

There is always at least one guard present in the room, often more as the room is equipped with air conditioning and the guards find this is a good place to rest from their duties. The night following her loss all eight guards were in her room talking loudly or playing with their cell phones, disrupting her sleep and making it impossible for her to grieve in private.

Diona’s wake will be at the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Church across from Philippine General Hospital where Andrea is confined. Andrea, through her lawyers at the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), has asked the court to allow her to attend the wake and burial of her daughter.[1] At the same time, the Free Andrea Rosal Movement will be pushing for her release in what they call a mockery of human rights.

When I asked Andrea how she sees the future, she seemed to get a boost of energy and sat upright: “I will continue the struggle, and I will do it for the baby I lost until I have done all I can in her memory.”


1 Since this article was written, a court allowed Andrea to attend the wake of Diona for three hours on May 21, but it denied Andrea’s request to attend the burial of her daughter on May 22.


* Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), or New Patriotic Alliance, is a grouping of organizations from various social sectors in the Philippines, especially peasants and workers. It was formed in 1985 near the end of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos with more than 1,000 organizations comprising more than one million members joining together.

 

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