10 rallyists injured as cops disperse protest of Marcos proclamation

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
10 rallyists injured as cops disperse protest of Marcos proclamation
Tension arose after activist groups tried to go in front of the Commission on Human Rights along Commonwealth Avenue on May 25, 2022 to stage a protest rally and oppose the canvassing of the House of the Representative in Batasan, Quezon City.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines (Updated: May 26, 11:28 a.m.) — Despite the area not requiring permits to stage rallies, Quezon City police blocked demonstrators outside the Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday morning in a protest of the impending proclamation of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr as president-elect.

In photos and videos of the rally posted on social media, rallyists and police with riot shields and batons in a scuffle. Another video shows a water cannon being used against the protesters.

"At least 10 individuals are injured and in need of medical assistance after the Philippine National Police attempted to disperse a peaceful protest at the Commission on Human Rights today," the League of Filipino Students said Wednesday.

"[LFS] raises alarms and condemns the violent attempt of the Philippine National Police to disperse the peaceful assembly at the Commission on Human Rights to reject the fraudulent win of the Marcos-Duterte tandem in the 2022 national elections."

One of those injured was a campus journalist from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines who covered the protest, according to a separate account by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.

The Quezon City Police District has not issued a spot report or statement yet on the incident despite promising a statement as early as Wednesday noon. 

READ: CHR: Freedom Parks protected from 'no permit, no rally' policy

Maximum tolerance?

At a press conference earlier this week, the PNP warned protesters that rallyists trying to enter the canvassing area would be dispersed. In the same breath, it vowed to "practice maximum tolerance especially in dealing with those rallies."

"Everyone has their own right to express their own grievances, but I am appealing [to them,] let us do it in the proper forum. I am asking for prudence and sobriety to all those rallies to please calm down," Police Lt. Gen. Vicente Danao, officer-in-charge of the PNP said in Filipino on Monday. 

Under the Marcos-era Batas Pambansa 880, demonstrators and peaceful protesters may only gather without permits at government-designated freedom parks. In Quezon City, one such freedom park is the Liwasang Diokno in the Commission on Human Rights grounds, which is also part of the University of the Philippines campus. 

The QCPD did not answer questions on the basis of the dispersal. 

CHR reminds police of need for maximum tolerance

In a separate statement, the Commission on Human Rights reminded the PNP to exercise "maximum tolerance in ensuring public safety and order in consonance with BP 880."

"We equally urge the protesters to be responsible in the exercise of their rights. We emphasize that the right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental right that deserves equal protection as public safety and order," the CHR said.

It added that it deployed investigators to monitor the protest situation. "In the conduct of public assemblies, non-violence and human rights standards must be observed at all times by all parties concerned," it said. 

QCPD says it 'managed' protesters

In a statement later Wednesday evening, the QCPD claimed said it safely "managed" the protesters at the CHR compund. 

Quezon City Police District Director, Police Brig. Gen. Remus Medina claimed protesters had tried to "illegally occupy" Commonwealth Avenue, which it said was "a main road leading to House of Representative where the Joint Canvassing of votes are being done."

The rallyists had not tried to block traffic and were also stopped inside the freedom park, where a permit is no longer necessary. 

Medina cited a spot report claiming around 200 people had met at CHR "to head towards the House of Representatives South gates to protest against the canvassing of votes" and proclamation of the newly-elected President and Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines. 

Reporters asking questions were told to refer to the official statement, but the QCPD chief did not address concerns over the PNP's heavy-handed approach in dealing with protesters inside a freedom park. It also did not acknowledge those injured in the scuffle. 

According to Section 4.4a of the PNP's Revised Operational Procedures, "water cannons, or any similar anti-riot device shall not be used unless the public assembly is attended by actual violence or serious threats of violence, or deliberate destruction of property."

"The PNP units tasked to maintain peace and order shall not interfere with the holding of public assembly. To ensure public safety, a CDM contingent under the command of a PCO shall be detailed and stationed at least 100 meters away from the place where the public assembly is being held," the general guidelines read, citing Batas Pambansa 880.

The following section also acknowledges that "public assemblies held in freedom parks or on private property do not need a permit for the activity."

"The PNP shall not interfere with the holding of a public assembly...before conducting any dispersal operation, the PNP shall notify the concerned organizers and leaders of the public assembly," the PNP's guidelines also read. 

'They went overboard'

In a statement issued through its public information office, the Philippine National Police doubled down on this narrative and claimed the protesters forced their hand. 

"The PNP exercises maximum tolerance in every mass action where police intervention is necessary. We respect their freedom of expression but they went overboard," Police Brig. Gen. Roderick Alba, chief of the PNP-PIO said. 

"As per initial investigation, protesters kicked and waggled the shields of the police force compelling the Bureau of Fire Protection on the ground to wet them. The protesters also tried to go outside the Liwasang Diokno which caused traffic obstruction."

He did not mention accounts of protesters being beaten by cops with shields and batons.

The PNP said it would also later on "come up with a full report based on a deeper investigation regarding this matter." — with reports from James Relativo

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