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A ‘tambay’ is not a criminal

I used to be a “tambay.” In high school and part of my college years, I was a regular “tambay” after school.

I grew up in Corazon de Jesus in San Juan where the biggest concentration of slum dwellers lived. I come from a poor family. Soon after my Mama’s demise when I was in grade six, my father brought me to San Juan to live with my lola. All throughout my teenage years I lived in the slums so I know from experience how people there survive.

Most of my free time was used loitering in the neighborhood with my friends. My lola’s home was a one-room affair with eight people living there including myself so there was really no space to do things. We did not have a television set. So it was not unusual for me to make “tambay” at nights with friends in front a sari-sari store or just outside the house of a neighbor.

Money was scarce. I had no money to go out. I very rarely watched movies or go places with friends. I went hungry at times. To have variety in my food, I experimented on the various ways of cooking eggs because it was cheap especially since we got them from a nearby poultry. I also liked “bagoong.” But I learned that eggs and bagoong combined do not make for a nice dish during one of my “experiments.”

My biggest luxury was 3M pizza. I would treat myself to this every time I received my scholarship allowance.

I stayed put in our neighborhood. This was how poor my family, and many others in our place were.

All I could do was to make “tambay.” This is not to say that I did not have fun because I had lots. I developed lasting friendships from my “tambay” years.

What if being a “tambay” was enough to get arrested then? What if we got apprehended and we did not have grease money for the police? What could have happened to me?

The thing is, this was during Marcos’ martial law. What we have now is much worse in many ways.

This is why I feel very strongly against the arrests being carried out by the PNP of loiterers on the basis of the order of President Duterte. I know that the ordinary perception of a “tambay” is negative. One is such when one is jobless and spends his or her time loitering. The “tambay” label is usually reserved for the poor. But even so, making “tambay” per se is not a criminal act.

We need to stress that vagrancy has been decriminalized by Republict Act 10158 signed by former President Noynoy Aquino on 27 March 2012. In the former Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code, a vagrant was defined as: “1) Any person having no apparent means of subsistence, who has the physical ability to work and who neglects to apply himself or herself to some lawful calling; 2) Any person found loitering about public places or wandering about the streets without visible means of support; 3) Any idle or dissolute person who ledges in houses of ill fame, ruffians or pimps and those who habitually associate with prostitutes.” Art. 202 of RPC has been repealed and the new law says that persons serving sentence for vagrancy law shall be immediately released upon effectivity, provided that they are not serving sentence or detained for any other offense.

The repeal of the vagrancy law is very clear: making “tambay” is not a criminal act. One of the major reasons for the repeal was the vagrancy law’s being anti-poor. Duterte’s order, therefore, has no legal basis.

According to reports, in Metro Manila alone, some 5,575 people have been arrested on the basis of the anti-“tambay” order. In Dagupan, more than 100 “tambays” were arrested on June 19. The Philippine National Police alleges that “tambay” arrests were due to violation of local laws such as anti-smoking, drinking on the streets, and going shirtless in public. One, all local ordinances that were passed on the basis of the national anti-vagrancy law should have also been repealed as the national law was. Second, even if there are legitimate local ordinances, it is highly doubtful that arrests should be made on the first offense. Usually, there are fines but imprisonment is such a severe punishment for petty offenses. Until now, no one has come out with the provisions of the alleged local laws that they use for the arrests.

Duterte’s order is bound to be abused. We have already seen several cases of police abuse on this. One has even led to the death of Genesis “Tisoy” Argoncillo. The police’s statements have been changing day to day. First they said Argoncillo’s death was due to self-inflicted trauma because he was mentally ill. Then they said that he died from suffocation because of the severe congestion of prison cells. When pictures of Argoncillo’s severely beaten body and his death certificate surfaced, they are now saying that Tisoy was mauled by inmates. His death certificate says that he died of multiple blunt force trauma to the neck, head, chest and upper extremities.

Argoncillo died while under police custody. They must answer for this.

Duterte’s order is clearly anti-poor. The rich hang out in coffee shops, malls, bars and clubs. The poor have to be content with making “tambay.” The difference is the rich have money and the poor do not. Thus, only the poor get arrested.

This issue has also revealed other politicians’ ignorance on how the poor live at best, and bias against them, at worst. When Senator Grace Poe said that “we want this to succeed so that our streets would be rid of criminals and unscrupulous elements without instilling fear and misery among the public.” She was actually equating being a “tambay” with being criminal.

There are rich and there are poor criminals. Poverty is not a crime. Many of your so-called “tambays” want to improve their lives by legal means. It is government’s responsibility to create jobs for them, not to arrest them because they are jobless.

What is happening now is worse than Marcos’ martial law and must stop. Arresting “tambay” does not solve crimes. Instead, it can kill like what happened to Genesis Argoncillo.

bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Genesis Argoncillo , Tambay , Noynoy Aquino , Rodrigo Duterte , Philippine National Police , Anti-Vagrancy Law
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