MANILA (UPDATED) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday acknowledged that loitering is not a crime, a week after he ordered police to round up tambays or night idlers on the streets.
“Para malaman nitong mga ulol na constitutionalists na ito (For the information of these foolish constitutionalists), loitering is not a crime. Of course it is not,” Duterte, a former prosecutor, said in a speech in Davao City.
Duterte has been heavily criticized on his order for police to round up loiterers, who he said pose “potential trouble for the public.”
Over 8,000 have since been apprehended or accosted in Metro Manila, the Philippine National Police said.
In his speech, however, the President hinted that the police may have gotten his order wrong.
“Tsaka ‘yang tambay (These tambays). I never said, ‘arrest them.’ Napaka-g*** naman nitong mga (that’s foolish) ---- why don’t you at least listen o i-rewind mo ‘yung ano ‘yung sinabi ko (why don’t you at least rewind what I said.),” he said.
"Of course I can accost you. Sabihin ko, ‘What are you doing here?’ If you are a minor, under parens patriae (authority to protect citizens), you are the father of the nation, you can always give an advice for people kagaya ng (like) minors," he said.
The President also dared his critics to challenge his order before the Supreme Court.
“If you are unruly talagang sabihin ko, ‘uwi ka kundi arestado ka’ (If you are unruly, I will say ‘go home, you are arrested.’) That is a police power of the state na --- Now, let them contest dito sa (that before the) Supreme Court.
Addressing the police in a speech on June 13, Duterte had said: "Do not … You be strict. Part of confronting people who do not do nothing and [are] just idling around, they are potential trouble for the public."
He also told loiterers to "go home," saying in jest: "Kay ‘pag hindi kayo umuwi ihatid ko kayo doon sa opisina ni ano—Pasig. Ako nang bahala. Ilagay mo lang diyan. Talian mo ‘yung kamay pati—ihulog ko 'yan diyan."
(If you don't go home immediately, you will be sent to that office in Pasig. I will take charge. You will be put there, your hands will be tied and I will push you off there.)
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."
In 2012, then President Benigno Aquino III signed a law decriminalizing vagrancy amid concerns that the Revised Penal Code has been used to justify arbitrary arrests against the poor.
The "tambay" crackdown drew criticism following reported police abuse with the death of 25-year-old Genesis Argoncillo, who was arrested for allegedly being drunk and picking a fight with his neighbors earlier this week and later died in detention.
Police have given conflicting accounts about Argoncillo’s death. His family is seeking justice, refusing to believe that Argoncillo was mentally disturbed and that his death was self-inflicted, as initially claimed by the police.
The police later changed its tune, claiming that Argoncillo was mauled by fellow inmates.