MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday slammed the critics of his fresh order for police to round up “tambays” (loiterers), as human rights groups warn of abuse of authority by the police.
“Ngayon, itong human rights (groups), do not tell me what to do. Sabi ko iyung mga istambay paalisin niyo iyan, para ang tao maglakad sa gabi," Duterte said in a speech during the 81st anniversary celebration of the Government Service Insurance System.
(These human rights groups, don’t tell me what to do. I said round up the loiterers so the public may be able to walk safely at night.)
Critics have slammed Duterte’s order, saying it was reminiscent of the martial law era in the 1970s.
The Palace defended Duterte’s order, saying the public must not fear that they will be picked up by police as long as they follow local ordinances on loitering.
It added the citizens may sue the police abusing the President’s order.
Police have arrested some 5,500 people in the past 5 days of intensified operations against "tambays" or bystanders in the streets, Metro Manila police director Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar said Tuesday.
The arrests were made between June 13 and 18, following the President’s order for law enforcers to be strict against loiterers, whom he branded as "potential trouble for the public," said Eleazar.
Loitering was a criminal offense under Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code, which defined vagrants as "any person found loitering about public places or wandering about the streets without visible means of support."
Former president Benigno Aquino III in 2012 signed a law decriminalizing vagrancy amid concerns that the Revised Penal Code has been used to justify arbitrary arrests against the poor.
The crackdown on tambays, however, may be violating citizens' right to freedom of movement and creating a culture of fear, said the Commission on Human Rights.
"You are just an ordinary, helpless individual walking down the street and somebody can just grab you . . . It's really masamang precedent iyan," CHR commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana told dzMM.
The CHR, she said, will investigate complaints against the anti-loitering drive. The body, in a letter, will also ask police chief Director General Oscar Albayalde to set guidelines on the crackdown and cite its legal basis.