MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday claimed that no arrests were being made following his order for police to crack down on “tambays” (loiterers).
This even as police have rounded up thousands in Metro Manila since he issued this policy, enforcing local ordinances.
Critics have slammed the President for issuing the order, saying this could become another avenue for police abuse and is reminiscent of the repressive days under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
The President, however, said he just wanted to make the streets safe, citing his experience as Davao City mayor where a curfew is being imposed.
“Iyung utos ko sa pulis na 'yung mga tambay, sundin lang niyo ang utos ko. Wala namang inaaresto. I just don’t want you using the streets to loiter,” Duterte said in a speech in Cabatuan, Iloilo.
(On my order for the police against loiterers, just follow it. No one is being arrested. I just don't want you using the streets to loiter.)
Since the President's order, the Philippine National Police said over 7,000 individuals have been collared in Metro Manila over the past week.
PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde explained that loiterers were being arrested due to violations of existing local laws.
"We are not arresting these people because of the word na 'tambay' sila (that they are bystanders)," he said in a press conference in Camp Crame.
"They are being arrested or accosted and penalized because they have violations of ordinances, not because they are istambay (bystanders)," he added.
Some examples of violations according to Albayalde are smoking in public places, drinking liquor on the streets, and going shirtless in public.
The crackdown on loiterers, however, may be violating citizens' right to freedom of movement and creating a culture of fear, said the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
"You are just an ordinary, helpless individual walking down the street and somebody can just grab you... It's really masamang (a bad) precedent," CHR commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana told DZMM radio.
The CHR will investigate complaints against the anti-loitering drive, she said. The body, in a letter, will also ask Albayalde to set guidelines on the crackdown and cite its legal basis.
Concerns have been raised over potential abuses under Duterte’s new order after a viral post of a certain Matt Dimaranan, who was arrested by police along with his five friends while waiting outside a friend’s house in Makati City.
Dimaranan and his friends questioned their arrest, saying it violated their rights.
“Ang tanong sa amin, ‘hindi ba kayo nanonood ng TV?’ Ang sabi pa ay ‘basta sinabi ng pangulo, batas na agad 'yun.’”
(They asked 'don't you watch TV?' Then they said 'what the President says becomes law.')
The policemen involved in the arrest of Dimaranan’s group have since been relieved.