Angry Philippine police chief suspends officers

Protesters lie on the ground after a police van ploughed its way through a crowd, during a demonstration in Manila on Oct 19, 2016.
Protesters lie on the ground after a police van ploughed its way through a crowd, during a demonstration in Manila on Oct 19, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines' national police chief on Thursday (Oct 20) suspended dozens of officers involved in violent clashes with anti-US protesters, as he voiced anger at one of his men ramming activists with a van.

At the rally outside the US embassy in Manila on Wednesday, the van reversed quickly into dozens of people then forward again, running over at least two protesters. The driver said shortly afterwards he panicked as he feared being mobbed.

Thirty demonstrators and 32 police were injured in the clashes, which also saw the authorities fire tear gas and the protesters strike out with batons.

"I am saddened and angered," national police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said in a statement.

"Police forces are under strict instructions as a matter of policy, to exercise maximum tolerance in such public assemblies."

Nine senior officers and 40 lower-ranking policemen were suspended pending an investigation into the incident, chief superintendent Oscar Albayalde, head of police in the national capital region, told AFP.

The policemen will still receive their salaries as the probe is under way, he said.

Four protesters remained in hospital Thursday, according to rights group Karapatan, but none of them had life-threatening injuries.

Hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the embassy to express support for President Rodrigo Duterte's foreign policy shift away from the United States, the Philippines' longstanding ally and mutual defence partner.

Police insisted the protesters had instigated the violence, saying the group did not have a permit, breached security lines, and threw paint and debris at the embassy gates.

But the protesters accused the police of being at fault.

"What the police did was unjustifiable and totally unnecessary. Are these the same people who should be in uniform? They should be ashamed," Edre Olalia, lawyer for the protesters, told AFP.

Duterte, who was in Beijing for a four-day visit, said he was waiting for official reports into the incident and did not want to engage in a "blame game".

The Philippines has for decades been one of the United States' most important and loyal allies in Asia.

But Duterte, who describes himself as a socialist and has close links to communists, has threatened to cut ties as he shifts closer to China.