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Cops fire water cannons on charging Sona protesters; no one hurt

Photo by Nestor Corrales

MANILA, Philippines—The initially uneventful rallies at the State of the Nation Address ended violently after protesters stormed toward the police barricade, prompting authorities to douse them with red-tinted water.

The “firing” of the so-called water cannons from four fire trucks lasted around 20 minutes after 5 p.m. Monday as President Aquino rounded up his speech.

However, National Capital Region Police Office Director Carmelo Valmoria assessed the SONA protests as still peaceful.

“Yes, despite what happened, I’d say the rally was generally peaceful,” the Task Force Kapayapaan commander said after the angry militants backed off and dispersed voluntarily.

The Task Force Kapayapaan had initially expected a peaceful dispersal after the program of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and its affiliates.

Valmoria said there was no one injured and no one arrested in Monday’s conduct of the rallies.

He justified the use of the water cannons, saying things could have been worse.

“We allowed the protesters to hold their rallies the whole day, which they did peacefully. Then they try to breach the barricade,” Valmoria pointed out.

Toward the end of the program, tension began rising as chants got louder and angrier, alerting anti-riot policemen to reform their ranks.

As the lawmen beefed up their line, scores of militants charged at them, not minding the concrete barrier, steel fence and barbed wire that served as a first line of defense.

Minutes later, red-tinted water began leaking from a hose connected to one of the fire trucks.

At least four fire trucks— two behind the line, and two along the center island— trained their hoses on the protesters.

The unfazed militants stood their ground, waving their banners and flags—and so did the anti-riot policemen, who held their shields firmly and banging their truncheons in cadence.

Behind the police barricade, another barrier made up of container vans was formed to protect another anti riot-unit lined up a few meters away.

One of the negotiators, Supt. Leslie Castillo, said the protesters brought with them cutters to cut through the barbed wire.

“They were meters away from our policemen when they got doused with water. But they did not break the barricade completely,” the official said.

Some of the wires were cut and some concrete barriers were felled, where some militants tried pushing their way in.

But they were held back by the water and another row of concrete barriers, where policemen were readying themselves.

Castillo said no negotiations took place since the rallyists had already cut through the wires, prompting the fire trucks to train the hoses on them.

Senior Supt. Procopio Lipana, Task Force CDM chief and the Quezon City Police District deputy director for operations, said there was no direct confrontation between the militants and the policemen.

“The protesters eventually fell back and dispersed shortly before 6 p.m.,” he added.

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