By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
Saying that “tambays” (pidgin for stand-bys) are potential trouble-makers, President Duterte ordered some massive police round-up of loiterers in the streets, raising fears of a prelude to the declaration of nationwide martial law that the President has floated a few times.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin, one of the critics who expressed concern over the sweeping character of the police operations, said the presidential directive is reminiscent of the measures imposed during martial law under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Malacañang however denied that the crackdown on tambays is a prelude to martial law.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque also allayed fears that the round-up of loiterers would lead to illegal detention and other abuses as feared by many.
So far nearly 3,000 street tambays were hauled off to police stations in the past five days.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Oscar Albayalde said from June 13 to 18, a total of 2,981 individuals were arrested amid the intensified campaign against tambays as ordered by Duterte.
Of the total number, 944 were minors who violated the curfew, 653 were caught drinking in public, 651 were loitering without shirts, 456 were smoking in public places, 138 were charged with traffic violations while 139 others were arrested for various violations including littering, extending videoke hours and urinating in public.
Albayalde clarified that a person standing on the streets, doing nothing and not violating any of the city ordinances, will not be arrested. But there are mounting complaints from those taken by the police, such as a group of male call center agents that usually spend their break time out in the street.
Asked about the trauma experienced by such people who may be wrongfully arrested, Roque replied: “Well, if the trauma cannot be reversed, he can file civil damages against the policeman.”
Roque said there are legal remedies that safeguard citizens against unlawful arrest and detention. “There are established mechanisms that protect the rights and liberties (of citizens). First, if a person is arrested but not charged, he can file a criminal case for illegal detention against the police,” Roque said in a press briefing.
“Second, we have an existing remedy that can be tapped immediately — habeas corpus.
We also have a writ of amparo. We are not running out of legal remedies to deal with those who will act in excess of authority,” he added.
A writ of habeas corpus is an order to present the body of someone who is in jail. It allows a person to question an unlawful detention before a court. A writ of amparo, on the other hand, can be claimed by a person whose right to life, liberty and security has been violated or threatened with an unlawful act.
Roque insisted that Duterte ordered stricter measures against loiterers because he wants to protect the public from crime.
“While we no longer have a law against loiterers, we have existing ordinances. He was just citing the need to implement the ordinances because it is important to watch the loiterers closely to prevent the commission of crime,” he said.
“So, in other words, it’s really police visibility and trying to take steps to ensure that the public knows that the police is present and that, if they are engaged in any conspiracy to commit crimes, the law enforcers are there.”
Sen. Francis Pangilinan reminded law enforcers that loitering is no longer a crime amid the intensified anti-loitering campaign of the PNP. Pangilinan cited Republic Act 10158 or the act decriminalizing vagrancy except for prostitutes. The measure, signed by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2012, amended Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code, which classified vagrancy as a criminal offense.
The decriminalization of vagrancy was hailed by rights groups, saying the vagrancy law has been exploited by authorities to oppress the poor and the homeless.