Lawmakers condemn US embassy protest clash: 'Heads should roll'
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A number of senators and congressmen on Thursday, October 20, condemned the violent clash between the Manila Police District (MPD) and protesters composed of indigenous peoples (IPs).
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III called for an immediate investigation into the video of the violent dispersal , noting that while the video on its own is very disturbing, it "is not the whole picture. We must not pass judgement until we know the whole story."
Senator Kiko Pangilinan echoed the sentiment of Pimentel in his own statement, calling for a "swift and impartial invesitgation into the incident" and for the Commission on Human Rights to intervene.
Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon also said the use of deadly force was "alarming," warranting a full-blown investigation. Drilon added, "The incident should not have happened had the PNP faithfully followed its rules of engagement and observed the policy of maximum tolerance as prescribed by law."
Senator Grace Poe said, in her filing of Senate Resolution No. 210, that “Though it could be argued that the protesters might have crossed the line at some point during the violent dispersal, it is clear that the act of repeatedly ramming over numerous protesters with a police van without due regard to their presence and safety is an act worthy of utmost condemnation and should be labeled barbaric and illegal.”
Senate Resolution No. 210 aims to ensure compliance with the rules of engagement of the Philippine National Police (PNP), to deter the use of excessive force during public assemblies and to ensure accountability.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, said the PNP's actions at the rally "extremely reprehensible, unacceptable and indefensible. The police force's complete disregard for human rights, particularly the right to life and peaceful assembly, adds to the growing climate of fear and impunity in the country."
"Exercise maximum tolerance"
Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr said "nothing can justify" the cops' dispersal of IP groups who protested in front of the US embassy the day before.
"Is this how we mark Indigenous Peoples Month? The Lumad, IPs, and other protesters are unarmed citizens, and even if they were unruly, it is to be expected. Our laws and jurisprudence have already indicated that the police should exercise maximum tolerance during protests," said Baguilat.
He said protests are expected to be more disorderly "because the greater the grievance and the more intense the sentiment of protesters, the less control their leaders have over them."
"Heads should roll. Regardless of the message raised during the protest, such an overreaction and curtailment of rights may not be ignored and be taken lightly. The police should exercise maximum tolerance towards the people, especially for those who are merely expressing their concerns," added Baguilat.
Members of the Sandugo alliance of IP groups trooped to the US embassy on Wednesday, October 19, to protest the alleged military and American presence on their ancestral lands.
They were about to wrap up their rally when MPD police officers dispersed them with tear gas.
Police Officer 3 Franklin Kho even rammed a police vehicle through the protesters, leaving several hurt and at least one man stuck under the mobile car. A video of the van running over the protesters went viral. (IN PHOTOS: Police van runs over protesters; PNP orders probe)
The IP groups threw bottles, paint bombs, and rocks at the police in retaliation.
President Rodrigo Duterte and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa both said they would wait for the results of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) probe before pinning the blame on anyone.
Other top PNP officials, however, have admitted to the police force's lapses during their dispersal operation. (READ: PNP: No reason for Manila police to ram through protesters)
At least 9 MPD policemen have already been administratively relieved.
Members of the House Makabayan bloc also filed a resolution urging the House of Representatives to probe the US embassy clash.
Effect of the war on drugs?
For Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, the "culture of violence" stemming from Duterte's ongoing bloody war against drugs may have influenced the actions of the cops.
"The creeping culture of violence emanating from government's war on drugs that has spawned unabated summary killings has been dramatized by the sudden violent dispersal that injured some 50 protesters," said Lagman.
He condemned the "brute force" unleashed by the MPD because it is an "abominable assault" to the protesters' constitutionally mandated right to peaceably assemble and air their grievances.
"The police attack on the protesters proves that the uniformed men and women have no respect for human rights and civil liberties. This sends a chilling effect as it can continue to escalate as the police are emboldened by the incessant exhortation of President Duterte to the members of the PNP to kill perceived lawbreakers when necessary," said Lagman.
Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin agreed.
"Such acts by the police on civilians legitimately exercising their rights reflect a heightened culture of violence brought about by 'policyspeak' promoting violence," Villarin said in a text message to Rappler.
"If the language of violence comes from those on the top of the hierarchy, those below will outdo what their leaders do," he added.
For Baguilat, the public will only learn to respect the police if the latter would show them respect as well.
"As a society, our trust in the police may only be earned if they respect the rule of law and our fundamental rights," said the lawmaker. – Rappler.com