Dozens injured after Philippine police van rams into protesters in clash at anti-US rally

Protesters lie on the ground after being run over by a police van during a demonstrations, in Manila on Oct 19, 2016.
Protesters lie on the ground after being run over by a police van during a demonstrations, in Manila on Oct 19, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
A police van runs over protesters during a demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Manila, on Oct 19, 2016.
A police van runs over protesters during a demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Manila, on Oct 19, 2016. PHOTO: EPA
Protesters scrambling to get away from a police van after it crashed into the crowd, in Manila on Oct 19, 2016.
Protesters scrambling to get away from a police van after it crashed into the crowd, in Manila on Oct 19, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
Protesters running from tear gas fired by police, during a demonstration in Manila on Oct 19, 2016.
Protesters running from tear gas fired by police, during a demonstration in Manila on Oct 19, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Dozens of activists were injured, with at least 10 taken to hospital for serious injuries, when a police van rammed into them, as an anti-US rally on Wednesday (Oct 19) in front of the American embassy in Manila turned violent.

A video posted online showed the van driving wildly back and forth through dozens of protesters. It charged backward then sprinted forward twice, barreling through a crowd that had surrounded it. Many of those in its path were hurtled to the ground, while a few were run over.

Protesters were seen hitting the vehicle with wooden batons seized from police 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 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 came 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 had ended war games between Philippine and US troops, as he drifts closer to China amid threats of a pullout of American investments here.

Mr Duterte 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 billions worth of Chinese investments.

“There was absolutely no justification for it. Even as the president vowed an independent foreign policy, Philippine police forces still act as running dogs of the US,” said protest leader Renato Reyes.

Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde insisted 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. 

In a statement, the Philippine National Police said it would investigate the incident.

“It is unfortunate that some persons were reported hurt in the confrontation that allegedly began when the much bigger group of militant activists broke into the smaller defensive formation of the (police) contingent that stood its ground to prevent an escalation of violence,” it said.

Mr Reyes denied that the 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.

The protesters, consisting mostly of students and workers, then took hold of a fire truck's water hose and confronted the outnumbered police with rocks. They then sprinted towards the embassy’s tall fence to scribble “US troops out now” and other slogans with red paint.

rdancel@sph.com.sg