PNP: No ‘tambay’ arrested, only ‘accosted’
The police chief of Metro Manila has a simple response to the uproar against the nearly two-week-old crackdown on loiterers — do not call them “tambay” anymore — while the Philippine National Police spokesperson said only a few of them were “arrested” and the rest were merely “accosted.”
National Capital Region Police Office Director Guillermo Eleazar told reporters on Saturday he had ordered all Metro Manila police chiefs never to use tambay in interviews. Instead, Eleazar said, those rounded up should be called “violators of local ordinances.”
“Discard that tambay. Everyone, anyone who violates a law or an ordinance, we can arrest them. If they are not violating anything, we cannot arrest them — as simple as that,” Eleazar said.
PNP spokesperson Senior Supt. Benigno Durana said only a “small percentage” of the loiterers were arrested and detained, while most were just “accosted or asked to pay fines” and eventually released.
Officers, in most cases, did not make “arrests” that involved “handcuffing and being brought to police stations” but were only “accosting” and “checking for violations” that sometimes involved “invitations to go to the police station,” which “you can refuse,” Durana said.
The PNP has come under fire for the mass arrest of loiterers—now numbering more than 7,000 since June 13—for various offenses, such as drinking in public, going around half-naked or raising alarm and scandal.
The campaign is being deplored by human rights advocates and several lawmakers as an antipoor policy akin to the war on drugs that has killed more than 4,200 people, mostly from impoverished neighborhoods.
Criticism of the antiloitering drive heightened after 25-year-old Genesis “Tisoy” Argoncillo of Quezon City, who was picked up by the police for being half-naked, was beaten to death four days after he was jailed. Two fellow jail inmates are facing murder charges for his death.
Eleazar said what the police had done in the past days was “just inviting” the loiterers or alleged offenders.
“But now, it is very clear, we will no longer invite them. That’s my directive,” Eleazar said.
The mass arrest followed a directive by President Duterte last June 13.
In a speech to newly promoted police, coast guard and jail officers in Malacañang then, Mr. Duterte said: “My directive is, if you’re just standing by (in the streets), tell them, ‘Go home. If you don’t go home, I’ll bring you to the office in Pasig.”
“I’ll take care of it. Tie their hands together and I’ll throw them in (the river),” he added.
The first time the President directed the police to arrest loiterers was on Sept. 18 last year.
What Duterte said
“I do not want anybody standing there, those loiterers,” he said during a national convention of public attorneys at the Manila Hotel.
“(Y)ou have to confront the guy, ‘What are you doing here?’ That’s why I said, ‘If there is drinking in a public place, arrest them …. Arrest them and jail them. Anyway, there is the PAO (Public Attorneys Office) that will release them tomorrow, so go ahead,” he said.
On Friday, the President lashed back at critics of the campaign. He said he never ordered the police to arrest just any tambay and that he knew that loitering was not a crime.
“I never said, ‘arrested.’ But if you are drinking in the alley, in the squatters area and making a living room out of the road there, you’ll really get nabbed,” he said in a speech in Davao City.
Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago said the police were blindly following the orders of the President just because he had doubled their salaries.
“Duterte’s design now is to normalize crimes and fascism—through both legal measures and direct verbal commands. In essence, this is undeclared nationwide martial law,” she said.
Commission on Human Rights Chair Jose Luis Gascon said the current police operations lack “appropriate and clear guidelines” and this has resulted in “abuse or excessive discretion on the part of law enforcement causing harm and injury on citizens.”
“Because our authorities wield tremendous power on our people they should at all times ensure that there are checks upon the exercise thereof,” Gascon said.
Other lawmakers questioned the police drive.
It would be better for the police to focus on people “who are committing real crimes,” Sen. Joel Villanueva said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, asked why a light offender like Argoncillo was mixed with hardened criminals. If the police did not do so, “his death could have been prevented,” Lacson said.
Sen. Richard Gordon said anyone arrested in the anti-tambay drive must be immediately inquested by a prosecutor who would determine whether the person, who has a right to a lawyer, should be detained and for how long.
Most of the charges against those arrested carry light penalties.
Argoncillo, who was arrested for being half-naked, could have been fined P1,000 or made to do community service for three days as a first offender under a Quezon City ordinance.
To back its own antiloitering drive, the police in Pagadian City revived a 72-year-old ordinance aimed at curbing brawls, riots and drunkenness.
The 1946 ordinance punishes a first offender with a fine of between P5 to P25 or jail time of five to 25 days.
PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta said the police should not have arrested loiterers in the first place.
She promised to “bail out” those arrested or look for “sponsors” to pay their fines. —With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Jerome Aning, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Christine O. Avendaño, Gabriel Pabico Lalu, Andrea Alcaraz, Julia Orden, Leah Agonoy and Allan Nawal /atm
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