CHR: President partly to blame for confusion in 'tambay' arrests

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 25) — President Rodrigo Duterte could have been clearer in his order regarding the arrest of loiterers, the Commission on Human Rights said on Monday.

When asked whether he was partly to blame for the confusion in the slew of arrests, Human Rights Commissioner Roberto Cadiz said, "Partly, because the message was not clear."

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, the commissioner stressed that clear guidelines, and not just a knee jerk reaction, were needed in police operations. Police recorded about 11,000 arrests since June 13.

"Hindi yung basta na lang parang nagbibilang ng padamihan ng huli para matuwa si Presidente," said Cadiz.

[Translation: (It) shouldn't be a contest as to who gets more arrests to please the President.]

President Rodrigo Duterte first said loiterers — "tambay" in Filipino — were potential troublemakers during a speech to police on June 13.

"So my directive is 'pag mag-istambay-istambay diyan sa, sabihin niyo, 'Umuwi kayo. Kay 'pag hindi kayo umuwi ihatid ko kayo doon sa opisina ni ano — Pasig,'" said Duterte. "Ako ng bahala. Ilagay mo lang diyan. Talian mo 'yung kamay pati binti. Ihulog ko 'yan diyan sa ano."

[Translation: My directive is if there are bystanders there, tell them, 'Go home. If you don't, I'll take you to the office of — (in) Pasig.' I'll take care of them. Just leave them there. Tie their hands and legs. I'll drop them there."]

Duterte later clarified his stance on June 22, saying he never called for the arrest of loiterers.

"I never said, 'arrest them,'" said Duterte. "Why don't you at least listen o i-rewind mo 'yung ano 'yung sinabi ko? Di ba ang sinabi ko... 'You go home. Do not congregate.'"

He added, "If you are unruly talagang sabihin ko, 'Uwi ka, kundi arestado ka.' That is a police power of the state."

[Translation: Why don't you at least listen or rewind what I said? I said... 'You go home. Do not congregate.' ... If you are unruly I will really say, 'Go home, or you'll be arrested.' That is a police power of the state.]

Cadiz said it seems like the government is editing its order now that potential abuses are surfacing.

"Soon thereafter [his first speech], the police officers were out in the streets hauling tambays because of what the president said," Cadiz said.

"There's a problem definitely, because although they're saying that these people are not being arrested because of their being tambays, in practice... many of them at least — are being arrested because of tambay and not because of any violation of an ordinance," he added.

On the other hand, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo maintains that the President's directions were clear.

"We should be familiar with the style of the President. Drama lang iyon," said Panelo. "Ang mga pulis, kilala nila si Presidente at alam nila si Presidente will never tolerate abuse. Takot sila kay Presidente."

[Translation: That's just drama. The police know the President and they know (he) will never tolerate abuse. They're afraid of him.]

Panelo also said he had never heard of cases of abuse during the recent spate of arrests.

However, administration critics and human rights groups have raised concerns on the spate of arrests. Vagrancy is not a crime under Philippine law, but police argue that they are following local ordinances against loitering.

Among the cases brought to the limelight is the beating and death of 22-year-old Genesis "Tisoy" Argoncillo. The killing was attributed to alleged gang members sharing his cell, but Cadiz believes the police are still liable as Argoncillo was in their custody. Another cause for concern was the case of Ariel Morco, who was arrested for being shirtless despite standing at his doorstep.

Duterte is also infamous for his bloody war on drugs, which has seen about 4,000 deaths in police operations, according to official data. However, human rights watchdogs say more than 13,000 have died, including those from vigilante-style killings.

Watch the full interview with Cadiz and Panelo here.