Lumad run over by police van: 'We were crushed'

MANILA, Philippines – Valeria Catubigan smiled when told in her hospital bed that the 9 policemen believed to be involved in the violent dispersal of the protest rally outside the United States embassy last Wednesday, October 19, had been relieved from their posts.

"Mabuti (Good)," she said softly.

The 61-year-old Lumad from Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte, was one of the protesters whom the van of the Manila Police District ran over – the raw footage shows deliberately – when authorities were trying to break up the rally. 

In deep woe, Valeria called on President Rodrigo Duterte to have the people responsible for running her over removed from their posts and jailed.

This was not what she came here for. 

She is a Mamanwa – "first forest dweller" – part of the people who have long been dependent on the mountains and rivers of their own land. Their ancestral land, or yutang kabilin as she calls it, is a symbol of her family's long lineage.

Through the years, however, Valeria and other Mamanwa natives have struggled against foreign mining and logging companies that enter their land for profit, destroying their resources for food and water.

And so, on the 19th of October, Valeria stood on the frontline of a protest rally outside the American embassy in Manila. With her were about 1,000 members of different minority groups from across the country.

"US troops, out now!" they cried. 

It was a peaceful protest, Valeria said. The presence of the police did not bother them until they came toward the crowd, ready to push them with shields.

"Sir, 'wag kayo magalit sa amin kasi nakarating kami dito para ipaayos ang aming lugar na di na makapasok doon na kumpanya ng mina," she recalled saying to the policemen. (Sir, don't be mad at us because we are just here to have our place protected from mining companies that enter it.)

Valeria was confident that those policemen would not touch them. But she saw that they were mad.

"I was with other women in front of the police when they began pushing us," she added in Bisaya. "We tried to push back as much as we could so they wouldn't crush us."

COUNTER-ATTACK. Activists attack the police vehicle after it ran over protesters in front of the US embassy. Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

COUNTER-ATTACK. Activists attack the police vehicle after it ran over protesters in front of the US embassy.

Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

Then chaos was in front of Valeria: people pushing and hitting each other, people blinded with tear gas thrown at the crowd. 

Then things got worse. Valeria heard the engine of a police van start in front of them. Then it suddenly moved back and rammed her and other protesters. As soon as the van moved forward, she recalled, another protester pulled her out of the way before the van could move back again.

"Napaslak gyud me. Bun-og ug napanit ko," she said, pointing at her scarred arms and injured legs wrapped in bandage and gauze. (We were really crushed. I got bruises and peeled skin.)

Valeria said she couldn't feel anything the moment she was hit. The pain turned unbearable when she was moved and rushed to the hospital.

She is the only one left at the Philippine General Hospital among the 32 injured protesters who were treated. She has no idea when she will be released.

Her sister Benita, 46, is looking after her, but both of them have no money in their pockets, surviving on the assistance they get from various organizations and the Department of Social Welfare and Development. 

CONFINED. 61-year-old Valeria Catubigan from Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte is the remaining patient admitted at the Philippine General Hospital after a police van ran over her and other protesters outside the US embassy on October 19, 2016.

CONFINED. 61-year-old Valeria Catubigan from Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte is the remaining patient admitted at the Philippine General Hospital after a police van ran over her and other protesters outside the US embassy on October 19, 2016.

But the fight does not end here, Valeria said.

She is seeking justice, and will cooperate in filing a criminal case against the accused policemen. You don't take oppression sitting down, she said.

"Padayon lang me," Valeria said. (We continue.) – Rappler.com