What you should know: Duterte administration’s crackdown on ‘tambays’

Rambo Talabong

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Here is an explainer on the Duterte government's new anti-criminality thrust: going after 'tambays' or people who stand idly and loiter in public places

MANILA, Philippines – Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has recently intensified its campaign against criminality – now focusing on those who stand idly or loiter in public spaces (tambays).

Nearly 3,000 were arrested for various offenses in a span of 5 days, and the number continues to rise. Shifting to full speed, there have been reports of cops arresting people without proper basis.

A group of friends in Makati, for one, was detained by cops supposedly just on the basis of Duterte’s verbal directive.

There is more to apprehending tambays, however, than what the President says. Here is what you need to know about the government’s latest anti-criminality thrust:

What is Duterte’s order? President Duterte was speaking to newly-promoted cops of the PNP on June 14.

There, he gave a directive to go after tambays. He did not command cops to arrest them, but only to tell tambays to go home. And if they refuse, bring them home themselves, or bring them to an office. Duterte, though, did not give details where.

Duterte said, “My directive is ‘pag mag-istambay-istambay sabihin niyo, ‘Umuwi kayo. ‘Pag ‘di kayo umuwi, ihatid ko kayo don sa opisina ni ano don, Pasig’. Ako na ang bahala, ilagay mo lang diyan. Talian mo ‘yung kamay pati bin–ihulog mo diyan sa ano. Do not–you be strict. Part of confronting people just idling around. They are potential trouble for the public.”

(My directive is if there is someone who stands by, tell them, ‘Go home. If you don’t go home, I will bring you to the office of – there in Pasig.’ Leave it up to me. Just put them there. Tie their hands together even the – drop them at – Do not – you be strict. Part of confronting people just idling around. They are potential trouble to the public.”)

This order is not new, as Duterte had given the same directive in September 2017.

However, it was not implemented with this the same intensity. Understandably so, as the PNP then stood at the center of a firestorm triggered by teen killings in Caloocan City.

Can cops arrest people just standing by? No.

There are no laws that criminalize staying in public spaces. Vagrancy was decriminalized in 2012 through Republic Act 10158 signed by then-president Benigno Aquino III.

Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code said before that police should arrest “any person found loitering about public or semi-public buildings or places or tramping or wandering about the country or the streets without visible means of support.”

This has been deleted, allowing people to roam freely. PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde reiterated this in a press conference on Monday, June 18.

Kung nakakatambay pakalat-kalat and you have a violation, yes (arrest). Kung wala hindi ka naman [aarestuhin] (If you are standing by, roaming around and you have a violation, yes you will be arrested. If you don’t then they won’t apprehend you),” Albayalde said.

Why so many arrests then? Albayalde attributed the spate of arrests to the fact that most of those who loitered allegedly violated laws and local ordinances.

Of the nearly 3,000 apprehended in Metro Manila, over 900 were minors who violated local curfew laws, while over 600 were nabbed for going half-naked in public.

The PNP has long been enforcing these ordinances, and they were just given a nudge by no less than the President to enforce them strictly.

In some areas, especially in the slums of the bustling region, it is common to see kids running around the congested neighborhoods past midnight, watched over by adults who drink right outside their crowded homes. (READ: This is where they do not die)

Punishment for abusers? Cops can face administrative and criminal charges that may lead to suspensions from service to jail time as it is against the law to illegally arrest and detain a person without basis.

In the case of Matt Dimaranan and his friends being detained in Makati, a cop has been sacked after the city’s police chief heard about the incident.

Albayalde said the PNP is open to complaints from those who will be arrested without proper grounds, saying in a mix of English and Filipino, “If they think their rights have been abused, they can always file a complaint and speak with us.”

The experience of being detained against one’s will, however, discourages some from filing cases. Dimaranan and his friends, for one, won’t file a case out of trauma from the incident.

Are cops informed? Because rules change across cities and municipalities, it is easy for cops who are reassigned to lose familiarity with local laws.

With this, Albayalde has directed local commanders to consolidate local ordinances and to brief cops.

The PNP will also prepare guidelines for the intensified anti-tambay campaign, which it promised to disseminate nationwide “within the week”.

Police officers, however, do not need to wait for the pointers to know the basics of law enforcement that respects human rights. As their chief said, protection of human rights is highlighted in their police operational procedures (POP) manual.

“What is important is there is respect for human rights. It’s part of our POP, the implementation of city ordinances forms part of our POP. Also in the POP, it is always indicated the respect for human rights,” Albayalde said in a mix of English and Filipino. – Rappler.com

Top photo collage: CRACKDOWN. Most people who stand by in public places, police say, violate in one way or another a local ordinance or a law. Photos from 2 junpinzon, Shanti Hesse/Shutterstock.com

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Rambo Talabong

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.