Dozens of Filipino activists were injured, with at least 10 taken to hospital for serious injuries, when a police van rammed into them yesterday as an anti-United States rally in front of the American embassy turned violent.
A video posted online showed the van driving wildly back and forth through dozens of protesters. It reversed, then charged forward twice, barrelling through a crowd that had surrounded it. Many of those in its path fell to the ground, while a few were run over.
Protesters were seen hitting the vehicle with wooden batons seized from police officers and throwing stones at it. The melee happened as some 1,000 activists, mostly workers and students, were wrapping up a rally to demand an end to the US presence in the Philippines and back President Rodrigo Duterte's push for a foreign policy free from US influence.
The activists came from the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Nationalist Alliance), the largest left-wing umbrella organisation here. Two of Mr Duterte's Cabinet ministers are from this group.
Protest leader Renato Reyes said some activists were injured and at least 23 were arrested.
Mr Duterte, who considers himself a socialist, has rained an almost daily barrage of abuses at the US, at one point telling President Barack Obama to "go to hell".
He has been bristling at US criticisms of his anti-crime drive, which has left over 3,000 criminal suspects dead at the hands of police and vigilantes in its wake since he took office on June 30. He ended war games between Philippine and US troops as he drifts closer to China amid threats of a pullout of American investments here.
He is currently on a state visit to China, where he is seeking to mend ties strained under his predecessor over territorial conflicts in the South China Sea, and to court Chinese investments.
Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde insisted that the van's driver, a police officer, was not deliberately trying to run over the protesters. "They were trying to flip over the patrol car. In the process, the driver extricated the patrol car and inadvertently hit some unruly protesters," he said. He said 32 policemen were injured in the melee.
Mr Reyes denied that protesters provoked the police into attacking.
"In the first place, the rally was about to end. The protesters were preparing to leave. Why did they fire tear gas and assault the protesters," he said.
Police lobbed tear gas as protesters broke through a line of riot police and hurled paint at the officers and a US government seal at the start of the rally at the seaside embassy compound.