Philippine rights body urged to halt drive against vagrants

There had been concerns that the conduct of the anti-vagrancy drive could result in abuses

Manila: The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged police to suspend its nationwide drive against night-time loiterers, as it said that guidelines for carrying out the campaign should be clarified first.

CHR Commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana said they want to know the “legal basis” for actions of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in rounding up what it consider as “tambay (loiterers),” or vagrants.

There had been concerns that the conduct of the anti-vagrancy drive could result in abuses.

“This is precisely why we want to stop it because we want to see if the police have basis first in conducting the campaign. Right now what authorities use are using just local ordinances as basis in carrying out the campaign against vagrancy,” Pimentel-Gana said in an interview aired by the cable channel ANC.

National Police Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde had said the drive was aimed at making the streets “safer”, particularly during the evening when most crimes take place.

Separate reports said that since the drive against “tambay” started in June 15, more than 7,000 vagrants had been rounded up in Metro Manila alone.

Most of those held are male. Some of those held include are not actually night time dwellers, but people whose jobs require them to work during the evening such as call centre workers.

Those caught in the streets in the late evening were not detained for more than several hours National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) director Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar said.

The drive against vagrants was reminiscent of anti-vagrant drives conducted by the administration of then President Ferdinand Marcos during the 1970s where males, especially those heavily tattooed and not wearing shirts and other infractions were rounded up and given minor punishment.

But the presidential palace said there is no need for the public to be alarmed. Speaking at a government event in Cotabato City on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said that both the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Philippine National Police (PNP) are already working on the guidelines for the implementation the campaign against vagrancy.

“The public need not to worry,” the Palace official said, since there are “built-in” guarantees to this directive.

Senator Grace Poe said that while she “recognises the objectives of the ‘anti-tambay operations,’ however, implementing it requires clear guidelines and safeguards against violation of human rights.”

“The PNP should orient its enforcers on the ground on how to handle the so-called loiterers, mindful of their rights and exercising the highest degree of restraint that authorities should observe. We want this to succeed so that our streets would be ridden of criminals and unscrupulous elements without instilling fear and misery among the public,” she said.

Senator Bam Aquino, for his part, questioned why the drive is focused on mainly urban poor communities.

“Is it now, also a crime to be poor,” he said.


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