MANILA, Philippines – At the behest of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine National Police (PNP) will continue arresting vape users across the country, but its top official admitted on Thursday, November 21, that they have no legal basis for filing cases in the first place.
"Kung umaresto ang policeman, anong ipa-file na kaso (When a cop makes an arrest, what case will be filed)?" Rappler asked PNP officer-in-charge Lieutenant General Archie Gamboa in a press briefing in Camp Bagong Diwa.
"Wala nga eh (None)," said Gamboa, a licensed lawyer.
He noted in the briefing that there was still no executive order from President Duterte that would ban vaping in public and importing vape paraphernalia.
Asked why the police would arrest vape users, Gamboa said: "Just to implement the directive of the President. Under the police powers of the state you can do that."
No case, no detention. Recognizing that they still have no clear basis for making the arrest, Gamboa said he had directed cops to arrest but not detain vape users in police stations. Instead, their names will be listed in the blotter and they will then be released.
He downplayed the blotter protocol: "It doesn't even have a probative value. You cannot even use it in court, and it cannot prejudice the person later on."
Blotters, however, are still used by cops in their probes as it serves as the first rough account of incidents, including arrests, that occur in their area of responsibility. Once names are placed on blotters, they cannot be removed.
The PNP has also been accused many times by numerous rights groups of filing trumped-up charges when they could not find a basis for arrests.
Why this matters. There are around one million vape users in the Philippines, as estimated by the Department of Health.
They are the newest targets of the frustration of President Duterte, who sweepingly ordered law enforcers in a press conference to arrest all vape users on Tuesday night. Even without an executive order, the PNP immediately ordered its men and women nationwide to arrest vape users in public spaces just on the President's word.
Recognizing that his order may be questioned, Duterte on Wednesday evening warned judges against suspending his directive, saying, "I will not obey your [temporary restraining] order because of the peculiar situation this country finds [itself in]." – Rappler.com
Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.