By Abril Layad B. Ayroso / Photos by Reggie Mamangun
AT LEAST 50 were injured when a Manila Police District vehicle rammed indigenous peoples protesters in a violent dispersal at the United States Embassy in Manila this morning.
After being surrounded by protesters, a police vehicle with license plate SAA 5553 and National Capital Region Police Office markings backed up at high speed, apparently intent on hitting the victims.
After several meters, the vehicle accelerated forward and ran over protesters before backing up again, scattering activists trying to escape its rampage.
According to rights group Karapatan, 31 were also arrested, including two Lumad minors, after Superintendent Marcelino DL Pedrozo of the MPD ordered the dispersal.
Organizers of the Pambansang Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya 2016 said Pedrozo showed up at the rally already enraged and immediately ordered the arrest of the protesters.
Under Pedrozo’s orders, the police began pushing back the protesters that immediately became violent as the police fired tear gas at the retreating activists.
Some protesters who tried escaping through and around Plaza Salamanca across the embassy were violently apprehended, with the police even chasing and clubbing the fleeing protesters’ vehicles.
The violent dispersal is the second in two days after the group was also violently blasted with water cannons at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City yesterday.
The violent dispersal immediately received condemnations from various human rights and indigenous peoples groups.
“We condemn the Manila Police District, and call on President Rodrigo Duterte himself to address this enraging incident, which has even surpassed the water cannon incident yesterday at Camp Aguinaldo,” Jerome Succor Aba, Suara Bangsamoro national spokesperson said.
“Is this how the government treats its national minorities? Is this the answer to our plea to stand up for national sovereignty and protect the interests of national minorities from the claws of Washington?” Aba asked.
Dulping Ogan, secretary-general of Kalumaran, blamed the US for the violent dispersal.
“The US can even order our police to attack our own people just to protect its embassy. This is a clear display of power, and highlights the urgency of our call to pull out US forces from the Philippines, especially in our ancestral lands,” Ogan said.
“Here in Manila, our calls are met with water cannons, and now teargas and brute force. In our ancestral communities, the attacks are far worse: we all know of the repeated cases of murders against our kin. Everywhere we turn, we Lumads and other national minorities are brutalized. Yet we will remain defiant. No amount of police brutality can dent the indefatigable and united spirit of the national minorities,” Ogan said.
The protesters proceeded to the Manila Police District headquarters to demand for the release of the arrested activists and condemn the police for the violent dispersal.
They are also demanding accountability from Pedrozo for using excessive force during the dispersal.
The national minorities travelled to Metro Manila to assert their rights to ancestral domain and self-determination as well as to demand the removal of US military and corporate presence from indigenous lands.
The struggle of the national minorities
During their rally, leaders of national minority groups spoke of abuses by the military who they accuse of acting as mercenaries of the US government and foreign corporations.
They said the militarization to their communities goes along with the destruction of the environment and their ancestral domains.
“Every single time the Americans show up, we can’t sleep, hunt or even eat in peace when they are so close to our communities,” Sonny Serrano of the Central Luzon Aeta Association said.
“The US Embassy and the military allow US soldiers to get away with crimes against indigenous people. Why must we tolerate such a system that puts Americans over indigenous peoples?” Serrano added.
Aba, for his part, added that the US not only promotes the destruction of the environment but also the discrimination on national minorities.
The Moro people of Mindanao fought the Americans to defend their ancestral domains that led to the Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak massacres where hundreds were massacred by US troops.
“They keep calling us Muslims terrorists, but who is the real terrorist here? Who has committed so many crimes against the people of the Philippines?” Aba added.
The US military is currently present in Mindanao, who President Duterte said must leave as soon as possible. # (With reports by Raymund B. Villanueva and Divine C. Miranda)