By JEOFFREY MHAR LARUA
The afternoon of October 19 was supposed to be peaceful.
But a violent clash ensued between national minorities, their advocates, and anti-riot police in an attempt to disperse protesters during a picket at the gates of the United States Embassy.
The program lasted more than an hour without commotion. It was Led by the newly-formed national minorities alliance Sandugo, the activity was a major part of the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan, a national caravan of more than 3,000 indigenous peoples and Moros to register their calls for the respect of their rights to self-determination, ancestral domain, and social justice with the different national government agencies and other institutions.
However, after 10 speakers and a high-spirited program, the police roughed up the protesters away from the embassy’s gates.
“Noong huling speaker na, sa kalagitnaan ng kanyang pananalita, nagkaroon ng command mula sa likod ng mga pulis na umabante,” said Piya Macliing Malayao, a Sandugo convener who was among those in the front lines of the rally.
The dispersal came after Manila Police District (MPD) Senior Superintendent Marcelino Pedrozo III arrived with reinforcements as the peaceful program neared its end and ordered the violent dispersal of more than 1,000 indigenous peoples, including elders and youth.
“Nagkaroon ng mga tulakan, nanghahampas rin yung mga pulis habang nanunulak sila,” Malayao said.
Baton-wielding police officers lobbed tear gas canisters thrice at the protesters as they pulled back. Prior to Pedrozo’s arrival, however, a negotiation with the stationed anti-riot police took place which allowed the protesters to hold a program at the embassy’s gates.
The protest, led by newly-formed national minorities alliance ‘Sandugo’, was a major part of the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya.
The dispersal was not new for many of the activists during the rally. For them, it was old news — truncheons, nightsticks, water cannons, teargas. It was old territory until a Manila Police District police mobile wildly rammed at their picket lines and run over several of the protesters.
“Naka-on na kasi yung police mobile [noong nagkatulakan na]. Maya-maya, nilakasan na yung gear tapos dire-diretsong umatras,” Malayao recounted. The driver was PO3 Franklin Kho, a frequent flyer during protest mobilizations in Manila.
According to Malayao, more than 10 were hit by the vehicle in its first thrust. “Bukod sa mga natamaan, meron din yung mga nagulungan,” she said. The police van hit Piya along with other protesters in its third thrust. An old lady from Southern Tagalog went under the van and was dragged on as it continued thrusting protesters.
She, Piya, and others were rushed to the Philippine General Hospital and Ospital ng Maynila after the dispersal. Dozens were reported injured, with some sustaining major injuries from the ramming and baton-beating. Police oficers did not spare medical personnel who were there to give first aid treatment to the victims and media personel who were covering the protest action.
‘Maglingkod sa bayan, ‘wag sa dayuhan!’
For Baguio-Benguet youth leader Gene Roz Jamil de Jesus, nothing justifies what the police did that day.
“The fact that they were dispersing us violently is one thing, to go to extreme lengths under the banner of saving face for the United States is another,” said de Jesus. In a footage released by GMA News, Senior Supt Pedrozo was seen ordering the violent dispersal of the rallyists to save face.
About 1,000 national minorities and their advocates gathered at the embassy that day to call for an independent foreign policy and protest the US-led militarization and plunder of their ancestral lands. In Mindanao, US troops remain at the Western Mindanao Region where most Moro and other Lumad groups live.
Gene, 20, was part of the Cordillera delegation in the protests.
According to him, the dispersal was the most violent implementation of the security measure set by the US government to protect their presence in the country. “This is exactly the reason why we are protesting. We cannot have our own police forces neglect their duty to serve and protect the Filipino people from foreign, most especially, imperialist interests,”
“The people have suffered so much in behalf of these foreign capitalists,” he added.
Sandugo, in a statement, branded the dispersal an act of state terrorism and an act of discrimination against national minorities.
“Panagutin. Dapat may managot eh. Hindi kami basta mananahimik sa may nasuspindi lamang.” said Malayao who is also the lead convenor of the national minority alliance. The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) relieved nine officers involved in the violence, including Pedrozo, the day after. “Dapat may managot, makasuhan, at makulong.” she added.
On October 26, Sandugo filed a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against NCRPO chief Oscar Albayalde, Pedrozo, Kho, and 7 others.
“Malinaw sa karanasan na maraming ginagawa para pakalmahin lang yung mga mamayan na nakakita ng ganitong klaseng karahasan,” she said.
The police was also involved in the violent dispersals in Kidapawan which led to the death of three farmers, and the raid on the UCCP Haran Compound in Davao City. Officers involved remain absolved of the violent incidents.
For Piya and Sandugo, the national minorities’ struggle for justice continues.
“Hindi pa rin titigil ang panawagan ng pambansang minorya para sa hustisya sa bawat paglabag sa kanilang karapatan sa lupa, buhay, at rekurso.” she ended. # nordis.net