Being a ‘tambay’ is not a crime

First, they came for the alleged drug users and pushers, mostly small fry living in slum areas.

Now, they are coming for the “tambays”—men hanging out, usually in front of their homes. 

The Philippine National Police have arrested 2,981 people for allegedly loitering in the streets and violating city ordinances, according to Police Chief Oscar Albayalde in a June 18 presscon. 

Of those arrested, 944 were minors violating local curfew laws; 653 were drinking in the streets; 651 for public nudity; and 456 for public smoking.

The harsh crackdown came after President Rodrigo Duterte issued a directive to police on June 13 to round up loiterers. “[M]y directive is ‘pag mag-istambay-istambay diyan, umuwi kayo.... ‘Pag hindi kayo umuwi, ihatid ko kayo sa opisina ni ano,” he said. 

Recently, a group of six men in Makati City waiting for a friend were detained as loiterers and held in a cell with drunks and vagrants. They were taken in at 11 pm but were not released until between 2 am to 3 am.

One of the group, Matt Dimaranan, says a policeman told them, “Basta sinabi ng Pangulo, batas ‘yun.” (As long as the President says it, it is the law.) The police did not tell them what crime they were being held for, which they should have by law, but only showed them a video of Duterte ordering police to corral tambays. 

That an offhand remark by the President, who often changes his mind, led to a rampant violation of human rights by police is staggering and may even be construed as a form of abuse.

How so is it abuse? Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said on Twitter, “What’s wrong with arresting tambays? It empowers the police to arrest anyone they don’t like; it’s a virtual license to harass and extort from citizens; powerless citizens are the only likely targets; women are particularly made more vulnerable. Btw [by the way] it’s also unconstitutional.”

Albayalde said at the presscon that the loiterers they’ve arrested have not complained about their rights being violated.

Hilbay countered this with, “Ayaw nilang maging ‘nanlaban.’” He explained that arresting tambays is in fact a violation of their human rights. “This violates right to liberty, association, due process; it is anti-poor and encourages profiling. The only possible basis for such arrests—vagrancy—has been repealed by RA [Republic Act No.] 10158.”

The latter point was also emphasized by Senator Francis Pangilinan, himself also a lawyer. Last Monday he issued a statement saying, “Republic Act 10158 has decriminalized vagrancy, amending Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code.” 

He added in Filipino, “For the law enforcers, loitering is no longer a crime...You should be the ones leading the way in terms of abiding by the law and not being the ones who are first to violate it. Follow the law, not the instruction to violate it.”

Some might argue that groups of tambays in the street are unsightly and make areas feel unsafe. However, loitering or vagrancy is not against the law. The PNP have no legal basis for detaining tambays. A mere verbal remark by the President does not void existing laws. 

Also, the cop who told Dimaranan “Basta sinabi ng Pangulo, batas ‘yun,” sounds like an uneducated idiot and further diminishes the organization’s credibility and public confidence in them, which has always been at a dismal low.

This doltish excuse for arresting the six men in Makati reflects badly on the PNP’s leadership. They should have first done their homework particularly on the legal side, and they should have held briefings for all policemen on what and what not to do in such cases.

Above all, they and other public servants should take the advice of historian Timothy Snyder, from his book “On Tyranny:” “Remember professional ethics. When political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more important… 

“Then there is no such thing as ‘just following orders.’ If members of the professions confuse their specific ethics with the emotions of the moment, however, they can find themselves saying and doing things that they might previously have thought unimaginable.”

Dr. Ortuoste, a writer and researcher, has a PhD in Communication. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Florin Hilbay , Rodrigo Duterte , Oscar Albayalde , Philippine National Police , Francis Pangilinan
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