MANILA – Individuals or groups may no longer hang out in public places, under a new order from President Rodrigo Duterte. The only problem is that the parameters are not too clear to such people, whom the president described with the derogative term ‘tambay.’
There is no literal translation for the informal word which does not appear in Pilipino dictionaries, although the order of Mr. Duterte for the Philippine National Police (PNP) to arrest such people sometimes refers to them as ‘loiterers,’ mostly young and not-so-young men (and a few women) who stand or sit in public areas doing nothing except to kill time or banter among themselves.
American English slang would refer to the same as men and women simply chilling in public, usually in areas near their homes.
Mr. Duterte issued the order last week, and civil rights activists were quick to point out that the simple act of standing or sitting in public was not in itself illegal.
As of Tuesday, June 19, the PNP had arrested some 5,500 loiterers or bystanders in the streets of Metro Manila, most of whom were released after being warned against repeating their public displays of inactivity.
National Capital Region police director Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar said the arbitrary arrests of the suspected vagrants was done as a warning for them to avoid “causing trouble to the public.”
While some local government units have curfew rules covering minors, the presidential order does not specify what time of day is covered, or if it covers all hours of the day, every day of the week.
The order of President Duterte, however, stands on shaky legal ground as former President Benigno Aquino III had decriminalized vagrancy, as the act was seen as targeting the poor and the jobless. In 2012, Mr. Aquino decriminalized vagrancy as defined by Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code, which cited”obvious” vagrants as those loitering in public “without visible means of support.”
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) commissioner Gwen Pimentel Gana said it would be a “bad precedent” for the PNP to pick up anyone whose only offense was to simply walk down the street.
President Duterte, however, justified his order as it was intended to keep the streets safe at night, when law-abiding citizens could go about their business without fear of being accosted or even assaulted by the ‘tambays.’
Ordinary citizens old enough to remember cited the case of the first months of martial law under former President Ferdinand Marcos, when both the police and military could arrest citizens for the simplest of offenses, including men whose hair was deemed too long.
Malacanang said one safeguard against illegal arrests was that anyone who felt he or she was unfairly arrested could file a complaint against the arresting officers.
For its part, the CHR pointed out that no guidelines had been issued by the government nor the legal basis for the presidential order.