Watch Philippine police van ram protesters in front of US Embassy as Duterte visits China
The protests come after President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent outpouring of anti-American rhetoric and his sudden overtures towards old rival Beijing
A Philippine police van rammed into protesters, leaving several bloodied, as an anti-US rally turned violent Wednesday at the American embassy in Manila.
At least three student activists had to be taken to a hospital after they were run over by the van driven by a police officer, protest leader Renato Reyes said.
Associated Press TV 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, barrelling through the scattered protesters and hurtling some to the side like bowling pins. A few got ran 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.
“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 US.”
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 US government seal at the start of the rally at the seaside embassy compound.
A fire truck 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 “US troops out now” and other slogans at the embassy’s tall fence with red paint.
The protesters, consisting of students, workers and tribespeople, were demanding an end to the presence of visiting U.S. troops in the Philippines and to support a call by President Rodrigo Duterte for a foreign policy not dependent on the US, the country’s longtime treaty ally.
The activists came from the largest left-wing umbrella group called Bayan (Nation), which has organised regular anti-US protests in front of the embassy for decades, most of which are peaceful.
Duterte was on a state visit to China Wednesday, where he is seeking to repair relations strained under his predecessor over territorial conflicts in the South China Sea. Duterte is also seeking to expand two-way trade and investments and seek financing for badly needed infrastructure projects.
Amid an uneasy relationship with the US, Duterte has tried to reach out to China and Russia, bringing uncertainty to his country’s long alliance with America.
But the protesters also opposed the president’s effort to lean toward China. “The Philippines will not be dictated on, whether by the US or China,” they said in a statement.
Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde confirmed the police van hit protesters but insisted the driver was not at fault.
“They weren’t really run over,” Albayalde said in a statement, referring to the protesters.
“The rallyists were trying to flip over the patrol car. In the process, the driver extricated the patrol car and inadvertently hit some unruly protesters who sustained minor injuries.”
One of the protest leaders, Amirah Lidasan, accused the police of starting the violence.
“It was the police who attacked the protesters. First they rammed the police vehicle against the people. Then they released tear gas and hit us with truncheons,” she said.
While the Philippines is a defence ally of the United States, Duterte - elected president in May on a ruthless anti-crime platform - has said he wants to distance the country from America.
In a series of conflicting statements, Duterte has insulted US President Barack Obama and the US ambassador in Manila for questioning his war on drugs, which has led to the deaths of 2,300 suspected users and pushers. He told Obama to “go to hell” and alluded to severing ties with Washington.
Then, after weeks of anti-American rhetoric, Duterte said the Philippines would maintain its existing defence treaties and its military alliances.
The comments have left Americans and US businesses in the Philippines jittery about their future.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse