“People showed defiance, assertion and grit. And because they have been wounded, they will even be more assertive next time.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Raymart Sumalbag (earlier posted as Raymark) was aching to go home from the hospital. He is the 23-year-old jeepney driver who was seen in a news video bleeding at the head and writhing on the ground, after being mobbed by truncheon-wielding Manila police men who violently dispersed protesters at the US embassy on Oct. 19.
On Oct. 22, Sumalbag, one of the four most seriously injured, was finally discharged from the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). About 50 others suffered various injuries from being hit by the rampaging police mobile, truncheons and shields, water cannon and tear gas.
“These injuries were all inflicted…with some severe enough to warrant hospital admission and observation,” Dr. Julie Caguiat, executive director of the Community Medicine Development Foundation (Commed) told Bulatlat. Eighteen of those injured were brought to two hospitals.
She said the injured would take two weeks or longer to heal. Apart from physical wounds, many protesters are recovering from trauma due to the brutality they experienced from the Manila Police. But just as bones harden from consistent pressure, activists always rise up stronger, more determined amid adversity.
This week, protesters are set to file frustrated murder charges against officers and personnel of the Manila Police District (MPD), led by Pol. Senior Supt. Marcelino Pedrozo Jr. and Police Officer 3 Franklin Kho who, they said, “showed intent to kill” in the dispersal.
According to human rights alliance Karapatan, 42 protesters were illegally arrested: 31 were detained in MPD Station 5, and the 11 injured placed under hospital arrest. They were all released on recognizance, after the rest of protesters reassembled and picketed the MPD headquarters.
‘Inflicted injuries from a brutal dispersal’
Sumalbag was first treated for traumatic head injuries at the Ospital ng Maynila on Oct. 19, and discharged the next day.
“His CT scan was clear…tests showed he is neurologically stable,” said Caguiat. But shortly after going home on Oct. 20, Sumalbag fell dizzy and vomited. He was rushed to the PGH Trauma ward for another two day-observation, and was finally released yesterday.
Baling Catubigan (earlier posted as Virginia), 61, a Mamanwa and member of Kasalo-Caraga, still remains at the PGH Trauma ward, after she was found to have a fracture in her right foot. Catubigan was ran over by the police mobile driven by Police Officer 3 Franklin Kho, and sustained contusions in her upper and lower body, her foot and leg were skinned. Caguiat said she may take longer to recover because of her age.
Nicole Soria, 18, a member of Kabataan Party-list-Quezon City who was dragged under the police mobile, sustained multiple contusions, and her chin and the length of her left side of the body was skinned as she went under the mad vehicle’s wheels. She may need to have an out-patient plastic surgery, Caguiat said.
The police mobile also ran over Queenilyn Gromeo, 16, of Anakbayan-PUP, who sustained contusion and abrasion.
Soria and Gromeo were discharged from PGH on Oct. 20, along with Piya Macliing Malayao, 27, Sandugo spokesperson, who suffered pnuematic tire injury on the right leg.
Caguiat told Bulatlat that in many rallies that were dispersed, those with inflicted injuries usually make up only one-fourth of the patients, while most were hurt from getting tripped or pushed in the commotion.
“This time, these were inflicted by state forces…the dispersal was brutal because nobody, not a single protester, should be harmed in the first place,” she said.
Many others who were hit by police truncheons sustained multiple injuries on various parts of the body. Among those with serious head injuries were: Dionesio Abear, 42, who had to have two stitches on the head– which were two to three-inches long, and also sustained contusions on the left hand; Reyan Naong, 43, of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU-Davao), with multiple contusion on the head, back, hand and upper arms; Reynaldo Moldon, 46, Mangyan; Bianca Alhibe, 18, from Cagayan Valley, with abrasion and contusion on head.
As of Oct. 22, Commed listed 37 protesters who were treated for contusions and abrasion in the upper and lower body, eye injuries, and vomiting due to exposure to tear gas. But Caguiat estimated at least 50 protesters were injured, but many just endured their pains and did not seek medical attention.
Among them is Datu Isidro Indao, Manobo leader of the Kahugpungan sa Mag-uuma sa Kitaotao from Bukidnon, who was hit by a truncheon on the left leg, but told Bulatlat: “It’s all part of the fight.”
Violation of the right of patients to medical attention, right of doctors to serve
Caguiat said many protesters suffered trauma, as they were violently attacked, and then arrested in spite of their wounds. “There is emotional trauma, as they were puzzled why they were being arrested.”
Caguiat and four other medics were among those arrested while giving first aid to the injured, including Malayao who held on to one male medic whom police were dragging away. Instead of attending to Malayao, who was bleeding at the leg, some 100 police encircled her as she linked arms with the medics in a stand-off that lasted an hour.
Police eventually wore the protesters down, and promised to bring them all to the hospital. Malayao was brought to PGH, but Caguiat and the other medics were brought straight to the MPD Station 5.
“They violated our right as medics, as they delayed us from giving service. At the same time, they violated the patient’s right to medical treatment,” Caguiat said.
Malayao was tightly guarded by police who refused to let in visitors who are not her relatives. Sumalbag, who was brought by another driver to the Ospital ng Maynila, was even kept under watch by police Special Action Forces (SAF) men.
Turning tears and trauma into strength
Malayao, who is also secretary general of the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) and a spunky Bontoc, went straight to the Sandugo press conference from the hospital, on crutches, her right leg in a gutter cast.
“Last night, I cried when I remembered the sound of the vehicle revving up and thumping against people’s bodies. What if it ran over someone’s head? I can’t bear to see another colleague die,” she said, in tears.
Amirah Lidasan, an Iranon from Maguindanao and the national chairperson of Suara Bangsamoro, is still recovering from an asthma attack triggered when she breathed in tear gas while running from police truncheons. Her body still aches from being pushed back by police shields and truncheons. But what affects her more is the recurring image of people getting hit by the police mobile running mad.
“I felt so afraid and angry,” she told Bulatlat. “Afraid, because I saw my comrades getting mowed down while the police just stood by. I really thought somebody was going to die,” she said. She added that she was angry at the police, after hearing Pedrozo repeatedly saying how embarrassing it was to the US embassy because the protesters managed to splatter paint on the embassy seal.
“Protecting the US embassy seal was more important to the police than the lives of the indigenous people and Moro…there is no justification for what they did…They treated us even lower than animals,” Lidasan told Bulatlat.
She said she and many other protesters had a hard time sleeping when night time came.
The same image stayed with Aya Santos, secretary general of the Families of the Disappeared for Justice and a paralegal worker. She had a throbbing headache after the dispersal and until the next day. “I couldn’t sleep because I kept seeing the mobile driving forward and back over people.”
She had been in many rallies that were dispersed, and had seen people hurt and bleeding from police mauling.“But this was really the worst…mukha talaga silang papatay (They appeared really intent on killing.),” Santos said.
Two other paralegal workers of Karapatan – Ofel Balleta and Ipe Soco – were also arrested, as they held on to other protesters being seized by police.
Santos believed state security forces are making a show of defiance of the President, as the dispersal by police followed that which occurred at Camp Aguinaldo, the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters where protesters were greeted by water cannon blasts as soon as they arrived at the gates. Three fire trucks reportedly supplied the water burst, which lasted for almost an hour until the protesters left.
“They really trained the water blast on people,” Santos said. The protesters were surprised, but eventually settled down and even managed to hold a program. But the rallyists led by Sandugo were not cowed, as the next day, they boldly broke through police blockade and hurled red paint on the US embassy seal.
“People showed defiance, assertion and grit. And because they have been wounded, they will even be more assertive next time,”Santos said.
“Even if Digong (Duterte) orders maximum tolerance in the next rallies, things won’t really change, truncheons will still find their mark. As long as nothing is changed in the existing societal structure, the fascist response by the AFP and PNP will be the same,” she said.
Post updated Oct. 26, 2016, with corrections in names of protesters