Kidapawan protest: Can police use guns to disperse violent rallies?
MANILA, Philippines – Was it lawful for police to use firearms to disperse the Kidapawan protesters on April 1?
The Public Assembly Act and operations manual of the Philippine National Police (PNP) apparently say two different things.
This surfaced during the first Senate public hearing on the violent dispersal of the protest on Thursday, April 7.
“For any dispersal, bawal ang baril (guns are not allowed). The police manual could be violative of the law,” said Senator Alan Peter Cayetano while questioning policemen who were on the ground during the rally.
The Public Assembly Act of 1985 states that police “shall not carry any kind of firearms but may be equipped with baton or riot sticks, shields" (Section 10, B).
But the police manual only says the carrying of a firearm is a violation if “committed within 100 meters from the area of activity of the public assembly."
It is also a violation for members of the Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) contingent to carry firearms. Even if the rally turns violent, CDM members are only allowed to use tear gas, water cannons, and smoke grenades.
To add to the confusion, the Public Assembly Act also contains a provision similar to the 100-meter rule.
Tactical team has firearms
But Police Director Jonathan Miano said that while a CDM operation is supposed to “avoid any opportunity for the use of firearm,” the CDM contingent may include an armed tactical team.
“Although part of the CDM structure is a tactical team, we see to it that the tactical team is strategically located that they will not have the opportunity to use the firearm. So in this case, one of our matters to be investigated is why the armed people were able to reach the frontline and find opportunity to use the firearm,” said Miano.
Another factor that may have led police to resort to firing their guns is how overwhelmed they were by the numbers of the protesters. (READ: Police in Kidapawan protest: Are we not human?)
Only 30 policemen, members of the CDM contingent, were directly involved in the dispersal compared to over a thousand protesters present.
North Cotabato Police Senior Superintendent Alexander Tagum said they had requested for more CDM equipment as early as Monday to be able to deploy more police. But no equipment was available.
“Unfortunately, because of the recent APEC, only 35 CDM equipment were available in our regional office,” he said.
The PNP said their fact-finding mission will also tackle these apparent inconsistencies.
“The end result will be a revision or amendment of our policies,” said Miano.
At least two protesters were killed in the April 1 protest in the national highway linking North Cotabato to Davao. Two policemen are in critical condition. – Rappler.com