Do not go gentle into that good night

Image credit: Ernest Guevarra

I didn’t realise how much I would be affected by the current and continuing struggle of Reina Mae as a political detainee arrested based on suspicious charges of unlawful possession of firearms and explosives and as a grieving mother of three-month old Baby River whom she gave birth to while in custody, separated from her after a month and who just recently died of pneumonia.

I’ve experienced a rush of memories from 20 years back when I was still a medical student in my clerkship and internship years. Whenever I was not on duty on a Saturday or a Sunday, I joined a health and human rights organisation in their routine outreach work to political detainees still languishing in prison. I usually worked alongside the organisation’s senior doctor or nurse in looking after the general health and well-being of the political detainees as they awaited their cases and appeals for release to be heard by the courts or for a decision for their release to be made. But more than the health checks that I helped in providing for them, it was the visit itself from our group that made all the difference for the political detainees - a reaffirmation that their colleagues and brothers and sisters in the struggle have not forgotten and continue to represent and advocate for them to be appropriately recognised as political detainees rather than common criminals and thus be afforded their rights as such.

As a young person and just about to finish medical school, the little that I have been able to contribute to help them in their struggle was returned to me through a wealth of learning of the political work that they did and its importance in the bigger struggle for a more just and fair society and country. They afforded me with their camaraderie and kinship sharing their sadness for not being with their family and not seeing their children grow, their grief for loved ones who’ve passed whom they have not had the chance to be with prior, but also their continued optimism for their eventual release.

Fast forward 20 years of finding my own causes and hopefully contributing my own share to the bigger struggle for a just and fair society as a public health practitioner, I am struck to my core after reading about the callousness and the indignity of what Reina Mae and Baby River have been made to endure. This has brought out an anger inside me that I thought I’ve been able to let go. An anger that is shared by so many others within the Philippines including fellow health professionals.

Nelson Mandela has once said that, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Let us not let the few in our society who chose to ignore the needs and rights of Baby River and separated her from her mother, Reina Mae who has equally been denied her rights, define who we are as a society. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.