“...Just leave them there (an office by the Pasig river). I’ll take care of it. Tie the hands. I would throw (them)...”
-- President Duterte, June 13, 2018
PRESIDENT Duterte looks at loiterers as potential trouble. That explains his off-the-cuff remark last June 13 in Malacañang before newly promoted police officers: haul the “tambays” to an office in Malacañang where someone would dispose of them.
Apparently to put some humor into it, he added the order to tie the loiterers up so they could be dumped into the Pasig river.
He was apparently kidding. But the police took it as cue for making arrests of 3,000 “tambays” in Manila. Without clarifying whether a president’s side comment qualifies as policy and vagrancy was still a crime.
It no longer is, since March 27, 2002.
No more vagrants
The Revised Penal Code (in Art. 202) listed five kinds of vagrants: from jobless persons to loiterers and idlers to prostitutes. The provision, amended by Republic Act #10158, was stripped of the crime of vagrancy. Police used to detain women as suspects of vagrancy when they couldn’t prove prostitution, which requires habitual sex act for money or profit.
The reason for abolishing vagrancy must be the same basis of U.S. jurists in ruling that loitering in public places is covered by the 14th Amendment. Freedom of movement or domicile is probably our equivalent to the U.S. version of the liberty “to remove from one place to another according to inclination.”
Matter of culture
Besides, loitering is a matter of culture for Filipinos and for many other nations.
It is “hanging out” or “chilling up” with friends, swapping jokes and stories, playing pool or “dama,” drinking, and watching their world go by. Most communities have public squares and parks or the street-side “sari-sari” or hole-in-the-wall store where the “barkada” meets.
More than a ritual to kill time, it is fraternizing or bonding with one’s barangay or sitio mates. In some towns or cities, reading centers and sports or workout gyms provide the location.
It’s the what they call “loitering plus” that must worry the president. The addition to innocent hangout or chill-up is destructive behavior, such as intimidating and heckling, drunken acts, begging or panhandling, offering drugs or prostitutes, or mugging and robbing vulnerable passerby.
But here’s the problem: Not every group goes beyond innocent loitering and, more risky, police can’t just arrest loiterers for mere loitering. They must be shown to have committed a crime, which vagrancy is not.
Most cities and towns have ordinances against offensive conduct of loiterers, such as drinking in public, pimping, public scandal, and crimes against person or property.
A local thing
It’s actually a police matter, which barangay tanods or the police deal with, depending upon the seriousness of the threat.
Mostly, potential trouble is defused by a localized “Gee, Officer Krukpe” routine from the 1961 musical film “West Side Story.” A local thing, that’s what experts say, which the president can very well leave to mayors and barangay captains.