By Reynard Magtoto
For the first time in the Philippines, thousands of protesters from the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) encountered a “sonic weapon” during their protest in Manila in time for U.S. Pres. Donald Trump’s meeting with ASEAN heads of states on Monday in Manila.
Progressive groups strongly condemned and questioned the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s use of sonic weapon Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against participants of the mobilization stating that it was a manifestation of the increasing fascism of the Duterte administration.
According to BAYAN’s Renato Reyes, LRAD is considered as a sonic weapon designed to disrupt the protest. “Delikado ang weapon na ‘yan. It affects everyone, even bystanders. That’s a serious assault to the people. It’s a violation of our rights,” he added.
Director Oscar Albayalde, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), stated that the LRAD would only cause temporary discomfort and it is not considered a lethal device.
“The PNP’s use of LRAD is patterned after “US-style” fascism to suppress the people by whatever means,” chairperson Dr. Giovanni Tapang of AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People said in a press statement.
The LRAD was developed in a weapon programme but is now denoted as hailing and warning device. It is a flat loudspeaker which due to its diameter of 0.8 m has a relatively high directivity (beam opening angle 5-15 degree). It transmits mainly high frequencies (above 1 kilohertz); voice messages have a range above 500 m, warning tones (1000-fold intensity, level 30 dB higher) to above 1000 m.
“Its intense, high-pitched sound is proven to have health consequences, causing potential ear damage or permanent loss of hearing to activists, bystanders and members of the police force alike,” Dr. Tapang said. “The PNP’s use of such device placed all within hearing range of it in serious potential harm.”
LRAD as weapon
Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) was produced by the firm American Technology Corporation (ATC), San Diego, CA.
There were cases that the LRAD was actually used as weapon by armed forces, police, port authorities and border patrol.
Based on the study of Jurgen Altmann, PhD, for German Foundation for Peace Research dated 2008, LRAD is commercially available and has been deployed in the hundreds with US armed forces and law-enforcement agencies capable of transmitting messages over 500 m and warnings to 1000 m.
Hundreds of copies have been sold to and used by mainly military forces, in particular of the USA in occupied Iraq since 2003 according to the study. It was applied to draw out enemy snipers who were then destroyed by US snipers.
The LRAD has also been used to repel pirates. “In November 2005, pirates in a small boat attacked a cruise liner 160 km off the Somali coast with rocket grenades and rifle fire. They were successfully driven back an LRAD on board the ship,” the study stated.
“The New York Police Department had deployed two LRADs during the protests at the Republican Convention in August 2004, but did not use them because the protesters to be addressed were at close rage,” study added.
While AGHAM even mentioned that LRAD was used to disperse a protest in 2009 during the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where victims sustained permanent hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing of the ears), barotrauma, ear pain, and disorientation when the LRAD was activated without warning.
The LRAD’s manufacturer mentions that it can be applied for government uses particularly in border security, crowd control for public safety agencies, long range communication for public safety agencies, search and rescue for harbor/port police and for coastal surveillance for harbor/port police.
For the military missions, it can be applied for the enforcement of exclusion zones, critical infrastructure protection, psychological operations, traffic control points/access control points, interdiction operations, checkpoint operations and in detainee operations.
According to Altmann’s study, in the high-power warning mode the LRAD produces sound pressure levels which are dangerous to unprotected hearing. The exposure has to be limited to a few seconds out to 50 m distance, 1.5 minutes at 100 m. Below about 5 m any exposure can produce permanent hearing damage.
The study recommended to introduce technical devices that limit the sound power and or duration depending on the distance to the target subject since protection from high sound levels is possible. However, annoyance and distraction may still occur.
“Protection from high sound levels is possible. In the high-frequency range where the LRAD emits strongly, ear plugs and/or ear muffs can provide 15 to 45 dB of level reduction. If the warning tone is used to produce ear pain or a feeling of discomfort (level above 140 dB or 120 dB, respectively, at distances up to several 10 m), this can be avoided by ear protection. However, annoyance and distraction (at the reamaining, say, 100 dB) may still occur,” the study stated.
Noise-induced hearing loss
United States is aware that sounds can be harmful when they are both loud and long-lasting which can damage sensitive structures in the inner ear and cause Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).
According to US – National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) Fact Sheet, sounds of less than 75 decibels are unlikely to cause hearing loss even after the long exposure. However, long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.
Loud noise exposure can also cause tinnitus – a ringing, buzzing, or roaring in the ears or head. NIHL can also be immediate and permanent when exposed to extremely loud bursts of sound, such as gunshots or explosions, which can rupture the eardrum or damage the bones in the middle ear.
“For such use as a weapon, an evaluation under the laws of warfare should be done explicitly. The same holds for human-rights or constitutional law for weapon-like use by internal security forces,” Altmann’s study stated.
“At a time when science and technology is being used against us, we will strengthen our collective action and raise our voices against Duterte and Trump’s fascism and militarism,” Dr. Tapang said.
AGHAM added that it is the people’s right to voice out their demands against the anti-people agenda of the United States, China, Russia and other imperialist countries which has transformed the majority of other countries as a source of raw materials and cheap labor, and a market for their surplus products.
“For 50 years, ASEAN has served as a platform for these nations to keep control of their neocolonies, where the member countries enter into multilateral and bilateral agreements on trade and security at the expense of their sovereignty,” Dr. Tapang said. (BaretangBikolnon.com)