Tambay by the thousands: The war on loiterers in numbers

MANILA, Philippines – Drug suspects are no longer the only targets of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bid to end crime in the Philippines.

On June 13, 2018, a frustrated Duterte spoke to newly promoted personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and gave his infamous order against tambays (loiterers)—a perennial presence in impoverished Philippine streets.

In his usual slur, Duterte vaguely ordered cops to accost street dwellers at night. (READ: What you should know: Duterte administration's crackdown on ‘tambays’)

But the PNP, recognizing it was illegal to just call out anyone in the streets, interpreted it as intensifying operations only against street dwellers who violate laws and local ordinances.

From accosting those who go out shirtless to arresting those who drink in public spaces, the PNP has delivered—and they continue to do so by the thousands.

Here are the latest numbers based on data from the PNP. This page will be updated regularly.

How many have been caught?
As of July 29, 2018:

78,359 have been caught violating local ordinances and laws

The count above is only by the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) which handles Metro Manila. The PNP national headquarters has yet to collate data from other regional police offices.

In the first few days since Duterte gave the ambiguous order, cops on the ground have obeyed by indiscriminately arresting anyone they spot in the streets. (READ: Tambays? PNP wrongly detains group waiting outside friend's home)

Camp Crame clarified that the police should only apprehend loiterers who violate ordinances and laws. The clarification was signed only on June 20 — 6 days after Duterte gave the verbal command. It was released almost a week later to media personnel on July 26.

NO "TAMBAYS". PNP releases order of police chief Oscar Albayalde to all cops on intensifying enforcement of laws and local ordinances. @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/2ymndZE8gm — Rambo Talabong (@rambotalabong) June 26, 2018

Not all were arrested
City ordinances are not as unforgiving as national laws like, for example, the Revised Penal Code. Some cities allow warnings and fines in the first offenses before making arrests.

The latest figure is broken down to this

Of the arrested, only 17 remain in police custody.

Ordinances have lower bail requirements, making it easier for arrested loiterers to be released days after their detention.

In a forum on Friday, July 27, Metro Manila top cop Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar told to reporters that he instructed cops to only “warn” first-time offenders even if ordinances mandated immediate fines. 

He said they really need to make the compromise as their detention cells are already bursting with inmates. 

Breakdown by offense

CURFEW VIOLATORS? Police stop at an outdoor computer shop in Tondo, Manila to look for minors to send home. Computer players claim they are already above 18.

Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

Most of the offenders are violators of Duterte’s Executive Order against public smokers which set a punishment of a fine from P500 to P1,000.

Curfew violators comprise of minors who are caught staying late in computer shops and children who are ordered by their elders to buy from their neighborhood sari-sari stores. They are usually sent home by cops as most police stations have no rescue facilities.

Breakdown by area in Metro Manila
Most offenders caught by cops resided in eastern Manila, handled by the Metro Manila Eastern Police District.

Manila and Quezon City, meanwhile, registered more violators than the three cities of northern Manila combined.

Campaign too intense?

TANDEM. Veteran Metro Manila cops Albayalde and Eleazar work together to rid the streets of the capital region of loiterers violating local ordinances and laws.

NCRPO photo

While ordinances and laws have been in place for a long time, Metro Manila chief Eleazar and PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde—the previous Metro Manila top cop —admitted in separate instances that it was only at this scale that cops have enforced the laws without halt.

In a television interview, Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Gwen Pimentel Gana warned that the anti-loiterer drive may be moving forward too quickly.

“It cannot be sweeping,” she said, recommending that cops only move forward once they briefed communities clearly of their law enforcement drive, and once they commit to the promise of releasing detailed guidelines.

A month later, the PNP only has Albayalde’s clarificatory order to enforce local ordinances strictly, affixed with a reminder to respect “human rights and [the] dignity” of apprehended individuals. – Rappler.com

Top photo: NEW CAMPAIGN. The Philippine National Police goes after loiterers who allegedly violate local and national laws. Graphic by Ernest Fiestan/Rappler

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.