The Philippine National Police have suspended nine officers involved in the violent dispersal of protesters – some of whom were bearing batons and throwing stones – demonstrating in support of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “independent foreign policy” in front of the United States Embassy in Manila on Wednesday. They include the driver of a police vehicle who, based on video and still images, drove through the center of the crowd, injuring at least 10 protesters, including women and elderly people. The police chief, Director-General Ronald dela Rosa, pledged to “swiftly and decisively” investigate the conduct of those officers. During the ensuing melee, pushing, shoving, and rock throwing by angry protesters injured at least 30 police officers. The police also arrested 26 protesters.

Various activists and indigenous people's groups clash with anti-riot policemen during an anti-U.S. protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Metro Manila, Philippines, October 19, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

The images from outside the US Embassy on Wednesday were painful reminders of past police brutality, including the “Mendiola Massacre” in 1987, and the deadly dispersal of protesters in Kidapawan City in April 2016. A Human Rights Watch investigation in Kidapawan found that police used unnecessary lethal force when they fired into a crowd of protesters, killing two and injuring dozens of others.

The national police have long been responsible for serious human rights violations with officers frequently implicated in the excessive use of force and torture of criminal suspects. The police are spearheading President Duterte’s homicidal “war on drugs,” killing an estimated 1,645 suspected drug users and dealers between July 1 and October 15. That dwarfs the 68 killings of suspects police recorded during “anti-drug operations” between January 1 and June 15. Police have attributed the killings to suspects who “resisted arrest and shot at police officers” but dela Rosa has defied calls for an impartial investigation into those deaths.

Dela Rosa said today that images of the police violence on Wednesday “saddened and angered me. I saw people that got hurt. I really don't want any Filipino getting hurt.” He can take meaningful measures to help prevent unlawful injuries or deaths by police by initiating thorough and impartial investigations of all such incidents and ensuring that officers implicated in such abuses face prosecution. Failure to do so will only guarantee that the culture of impunity for unlawful police violence continues.