Manila starts crackdown on loiterers upon Duterte’s orders, form of ‘crime prevention’

President Rodrigo Duterte has waged war against unemployed bystanders. Photo via ABS-CBN.

Metro Manila police director Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar said yesterday that 5,500 unemployed loiterers (or “tambay” in Filipino) have been arrested in the past week.

The police’s crackdown against late-night bystanders started due to an order by President Rodrigo Duterte. In remarks given last week by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, he explained Duterte’s order as “more of crime prevention.”

Contradicting the number of arrests reported by Eleazar, Roque clarified that the police should just ask bystanders “to go home.”

Said Roque: “Now, should they be arrested if they refuse? The President as a lawyer knows that if no crime has been committed, there is no basis for arrest.”

In a bizarre turn of events, even call center agents have been mistakenly arrested, highlighting the fact that it’s hard to define what a real unemployed bystander is.

Television show Bandila reported yesterday that some call center workers were waiting outside a friend’s home when they were arrested by the police. Manila has numerous business process outsourcing companies, with majority of its employees working in late-night shifts.

In response to this, Roque said the call center agents can “file civil damages against the policeman” who made the arrest.

With Duterte making a national issue out of something that would normally be a city mayor’s concern, it was natural for observers to criticize the president.

Tom Villarin, a spokesperson for party list organization Akbayan said in a statement: “[I]f you go down to going after tambays and having them thrown in the Pasig River, then something must be afoot now that President Duterte views common crime being a national security threat.”

Some netizens aren’t too happy. Commenting on a tambay-related story posted by GMA, user @frontreros wrote, “Arresting people because they could potentially commit a crime. On the other hand, real criminals are off the hook. Something is fundamentally wrong with our logic here.”

commenter on Reddit from discussion Admin Warns Against Loiterers aka Tambays says: “Look, I get that ‘tambays’ are vulnerable to falling into vice, etc. But ultimately—aren’t they just a symptom of wider root problems in society, i.e. joblessness, inequality, breakdown of community norms due over-density, etc.? Making the ‘tambays’ go away is just a band-aid solution that can actually have some callous implications.”

As of 2011, Manila has a density of 38,000 people per 2.6 square kilometers. Many of its inhabitants live in the slums. More than 2.1 million are unemployed in the Philippines, with men outnumbering women.

Some are supportive, with some Filipinos thinking of bystanders as eyesores and potential criminals. Commenting on Bandila’s post about the call center agents who were arrested, Janile Mae Tanuga wrote in Filipino, “Here in Davao [where Duterte used to be mayor], you won’t see anyone drinking late at night. We follow it. You [critics] just don’t want to be disciplined. You should go overseas–do they have bystanders?”

Rosalinda Powierza wrote in Filipino, “It’s good that those bystanders are caught. It’s already midnight but they’re still out like street dogs. Those who are out beyond curfew hours are planning to do a crime.”

It seems like Manila is going through a less high-tech version of Minority Report— people are now being arrested because they might commit a crime, not because they really did.

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