Since June 13, 2018, police have arrested more than 8,000 people and detained many in detention facilities, already dangerously overcrowded due to mass surrender of drug suspects linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s “drug war”.
The vast majority of those arrested are known as “tambay”, shirtless men who gather in the streets of the cities in the poorest neighborhoods, often drinking alcohol in public. In general, they are not brought before a judge, but held for a while and then released, although criminal charges are sometimes introduced. The police have focused the anti-wandering campaign in the same communities that have been the epicenter of the summary killing of the “war on drugs”, which have killed more than 12,000 people since mid-2016.
“The Philippine national police are conducting a crime prevention campaign that essentially imprisons low-income Filipinos to be in public – said Phelim Kine, Asia’s Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia – This campaign threatens to further traumatize residents of communities already terrorized by the war on drugs and is endangering the health and safety of prisoners “.
According to Human Rights Watch, President Duterte sent vague messages about the campaign, increasing the likelihood of abuse. He ordered a “severe” repression against the vagabonds that he had also warned constituted “potential problems for the public”. Then on June 22 he said he had never ordered the police to arrest the so-called “vagrants”. Two days later, the Metro Manila police chief, Guillermo Eleazar, said police had mostly only “approached” rather than arrested suspects in the anti-wandering campaign and had forbidden his staff to use the term tambay. in the countryside. But Eleazar said that the police will continue to enforce the ordinances – a task ordinarily relegated to district officials.
A detention cell at a Quezon City police station designed to hold 40 people held 135 suspects arrested in the “anti-wandering” campaign. On 22 June, the police initially attributed the death to the detention of Genesis Argoncillo, a suspected “vagabond” arrested for being bare-chested in public, on “difficulty breathing”. However, Argoncillo’s death certificate indicated that his body showed signs of violence such as contusions in the neck, head, chest, and upper limbs.
There are indications that the police enforcement of the “anti-wandering” campaign is arbitrarily trapping Filipinos who are legally in the streets at night. Two call center agents reported that the police arrested them on June 16 for “wandering” while they were on the corner of a street outside a friend’s house. Arrest agents were fired.
The campaign against “vagabonds” is based on long-standing local ordinances that prohibit men from being bare-chested and other crimes. He provoked an intense public reaction evoking memories of arbitrary police aimed at the poor of the city during the period of the 1972-1981 martial law under the late president Ferdinand Marcos. The government has tried to counter that criticism by insisting that it is simply about pursuing a legitimate crime prevention campaign and that it will not affect citizens “who do nothing wrong”.
“The Philippine national police are still demonstrating their preference to exercise fear, intimidation and arbitrary arrest to target vulnerable communities rather than respect for the rule of law – said Kine – The Filipino government should protect fundamental rights of all Filipinos rather than letting the police demolish them under the guise of a crime prevention campaign”.