MANILA - Activists and police on Saturday traded accusations of wrongdoing after the dispersal of a protest action outside the US Embassy in Manila turned violent, leaving dozens injured 2 days ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address.
Policemen on Saturday pounded activists from the Lakbayan ng Timog Katagalugan with anti-riot shields and water cannons, while the militants threw banner poles and rocks at the officers, video from DZMM's Ron Lopez showed.
The militants claimed that the mayhem erupted when police prevented them from marching towards the nearby Mendiola Bridge after their protest outside the US Embassy, where they denounced the supposed American influence on Philippine policy.
"Ayaw tayo padaanin, paabantehin ang aming hanay. Ang gusto lang naman natin makaabante na para makapunta na sa Mendiola nang maayos," said Lakbayan spokesperson Casey Cruz.
(They barred us from moving forward. All we wanted was to go to Mendiola.)
"May biglang nagbaba ng truncheon. May naipit mula sa mga kasama natin, umalpas. Pagbaba ng truncheon, ginitgit na sa hanay natin. Siyempre ang tendency, aatras, tapos magkakagulo gawa nang may sumigaw," she added.
(Someone slammed down their truncheon and one protester was hit. They also crowded us with truncheons. Of course, the tendency would be for us to move backward and for chaos to erupt because someone shouted.)
Seventeen demonstrators were injured, including an 8-year-old cultural performer who was hit in the spinal cord and a protester who suffered a cut on the head, she said.
Metro Manila police director Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, however, said the violence started when protesters hurled rocks at the police after insisting on marching along the main thoroughfare instead of a service road.
"Ang pulis is laging defensive, maximum tolerance... Pero itong pagbato ng mga nagra-rally, e para bang karapatan nilang mambato, which is mali talaga," he said.
(The police is always on the defense and exercising maximum tolerance... The protesters' move to hit us as if it was within their rights is wrong.)
Nine policemen and a firefighter, he said, were injured in the dispersal.
SONA RALLIES TO CONTINUE
Despite the dispersal, some 100,000 protesters will push through with mass actions when Duterte delivers his third SONA on Monday afternoon, said Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago.
She shrugged off reports that President Duterte would snub the "People's SONA" rally this year, which he visited in 2017.
"Hindi naman po talaga welcome ang Pangulo sa taong bayan. Matagal na niyang tinalikuran ang mga pangako at ang mga taumbayan na mismo ang manininigil at magsasabi sa Pangulo na, 'Tama na, sobra na, wakasan na ang panlilinlang,'" she said.
(The President is not welcome anyway. He has long turned his back on his promises and the people themselves will tell him, 'That's enough, stop the deceit.')
The police, for its part, will not break up protests as long as organizers follow their agreement with authorities, said Eleazar.
"Hinayaan natin sila sa kanilang gusto, kung hanggang saan. So napag-usapan yun. So malinaw na kung susundin nila ang usapan, walang mangyayaring dispersion. Pero if they will go beyond what was agreed upon, yun ang magiging basis natin para i-disperse sila," he said.
(We have agreed on the limits of the protest. If they obey that, there will be no dispersion. But if they will go beyond what was agreed upon, that will be our basis to disperse them.)