DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 October) – President Rodrigo Duterte is inviting the police and the protesters for coffee to find out what really happened during the October 19 violent dispersal of Moro and Indigenous Peoples (IPs) protesting near the US Embassy in Manila.
“You know, the police said that natakot kasi na-corner sila (they were afraid because they were cornered). There were just two of them I think, in the crowd they were surrounded by the group of militants,” Duterte said in a press conference in the early hours of Saturday, at the Davao International Airport.
Duterte was in China when some 50 protesters from among the Moro and Indigenous Peoples were injured after Manila policemen dispersed the anti-US rally, with PO3 Franklin Kho ramming down a police van on the path of the protesters, hitting several of them in the process.
In a press statement, Sandugo, an alliance of Moro and IPs and several other people’s organizations claimed they were about to end the program when Sr. Supt. Marcelino Pedroso of the Manila Police District allegedly gave the go signal to disperse the crowd.
“Immediately, the police released tear gas and rammed their mobile patrol vehicle through the ranks of the protesters. Police armed with truncheons also chased after the protesters from Roxas Boulevard to Kalaw Street,” injuring Sandugo lead convenor Piya Macliing Malayao, Quenilyn Gromeo of Anakbayan-PUP, and Baling Katubigan, a 61-year old Lumad woman from Kasalo in Caraga region in Mindanao.
It said some 50 protesters suffered minor injuries.
Nine officials of the Manila Police District were relieved from office, including Pedrozo, who, according to witnesses, ordered the dispersal. Pedrozo denied the allegation.
Duterte said he is “not justifying” what the police did but said it may have been an act of “self preservation.”
“Alam mo ‘yan ang sinasabi ko ah, even in war, even in everything, it’s miscalculation. Well, I think that the police there was– nobody would ever do that in the midst of a troubled– I’m not justifying it. Just a maybe, baka he was under stress, he might be ganged, they might gang up on him, hurt him, and so he acted on a, by instinct, self preservation.
Of Kho’s ramming down the police van at the protesters, Duterte said: “So’yun naman ‘yung ano, hindi naman talaga yung may gusto siyang patayin. Padiretso diretso lang eh. Hindi naman talaga ‘yung pinipili niya kung saan ‘yung mga tao.”
He said he intends to look into what happened. “I will try to talk to the police, invite him for coffee and I will talk to the activists. Para naman hindi sila — I would like to know what really happened. The dimension can only be, can be had if I would do the questioning myself.”
He said he does not want anyone hurt during demonstrations whether they are from the young militants or the police.
“It’s about time that we should really treat this as a matter with civility. Hindi na ‘yang ano na lang dyan kasi batuhin mo ‘yung mga pulis. Pulis naman come in swaggering and beating people,” he said.
“Everybody is progressing. Whether it’s in China, Japan. Eh, why are we still trying to fight them? Para tayong nagra-rumble dito na mga bata eh. Look at those young people there fighting street fights every night. Stop it, it’s a–nako-kornihan na ako. But this is one thing I would like to suggest. I do not want any firearms during demonstrations,” he said.
He also said M-16 firearms should be stationed “far away.”
“Maybe a pistol but no, no, no M-16’s there…. they should be stationed far away. The worst that they can do, or maybe the demonstrations, is cause damage. I do not want to see M16’s there, there is no fighting there. That will never happen. I mean, those are anathema in the modern sense of the word demonstrations. They’re everywhere. In every country, there are always demonstrations, and the government- police and military should expect that.”
In a press statement on October 22, Sandugo said they were accepting the President’s invitation so they could “clarify the events that transpired during the violent dispersal.”
Malayao said Sandugo alliance is “very much ready” to tell the President what really transpired.
She noted that while Duterte said he is not justifying the actions of the police, “it is apparent that the President has only initially heard the side of the police.”
“With all due respect, Mr. President, the initial briefing you might have been given on the incident might be lacking. For one, various video footages of the incident show that the police vehicle in itself was positioned in an area with much space to maneuver. Yet PO3 Kho still recklessly (drove it) in reverse and then forwards several times, toppling many unsuspecting protesters who by that time were still reeling from the effects of the tear gas that was just released moments before,” she said.
“From our point of view, the President really needs to be given a full view of what transpired, as it is apparent that he has been given limited information on the incident. At least, he admitted that he still needed to know what actually transpired. Initially, we are relieved by his pronouncement that he will be meeting with both the police and the demonstrators and personally do the questioning,” Malayao said.
On the use of firearms, Malayao said there were SWAT teams deployed during the protest and “several of them were carrying long firearms, in grave violation of laws on peacekeeping during rallies and assemblies. These SWAT members even accompanied some of the injured all the way to the hospital, as if they were criminals that would escape. Isn’t that ironic?”
“When we sit down with the President, we will not only brief him on what actually happened during the dispersal. We will also take that opportunity to explain to him the calls and demands of national minorities. We will relate to him that we rallied at the US Embassy to express our vehement opposition to the continuing assertion of US foreign power over our own domestic affairs, which has primarily brought about turmoil and imperialist plunder of our ancestral lands and communities,” Malayao added. (MindaNews)