A Philippine police van rammed into protesters, leaving several bloodied, as an anti-U.S. rally turned violent Wednesday at the American Embassy in Manila.
The van’s driver, police officer Franklin Kho, told reporters he was driving the van away from the protesters because he feared they would try to seize it and use it to attack the policemen. “They were already trying to seize the vehicle,” Kho told reporters.
A video footage showed the van repeatedly ramming the protesters as it drove wildly back and forth after activists surrounded and started hitting the vehicle with wooden batons they seized from police.
In front of horrified crowds, including video journalists and photographers, the van suddenly charged backward then sprinted forward twice over a space of about 20 meters (60 feet), barreling through the scattered protesters and hurtling some to the side like bowling pins.
A few were run over but somehow managed to stand.
Some screamed in surprise, others hurled stones at the van and yelled invectives. A speaker called the police “puppies of imperialists” on a loudspeaker.
At least three student activists were taken to a hospital after they were run over by the van, protest leader Renato Reyes said.
“There was absolutely no justification for it,” Reyes said of the violent police dispersal of about 1,000 protesters. “Even as the president vowed an independent foreign policy, Philippine police forces still act as running dogs of the U.S.”
Police lobbed tear gas and arrested at least 23 protesters who broke through a line of riot police and hurled red paint at the officers and a U.S. government seal at the start of the rally at the seaside embassy compound.
A firetruck doused the rowdy protesters with water to push them back, but they took hold of the water hose and confronted the outnumbered police with rocks and red paint. After breaking through the police corridor, they scribbled “U.S. troops out now” and other slogans at the embassy’s tall fence with red paint.
The national police said in a statement that the violent dispersal was “unfortunate” and an investigation would try to determine if the riot policemen followed crowd-control procedures. Investigators will also evaluate criminal and civil liabilities of the protest leader and rallyists for an alleged illegal mass assembly.
A left-wing legal group, the National Union of People’s Lawyers, condemned the police violence and said it would help the injured and detained protesters file criminal complaints against the police for violating their constitutional rights to free assembly.
The protesters, consisting of students, workers and tribes people, were demanding an end to the presence of visiting U.S. troops in the Philippine and to support a call by President Rodrigo Duterte for a foreign policy not dependent on the U.S., the country’s longtime treaty ally.