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CHR probes death of ‘tambay’ in jail

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
CHR probes death of âtambayâ in jail
CHR chairman Chito Gascon said their investigators are looking into the case of Genesis Argoncillo, who died while in detention after he was arrested in Novaliches for not wearing a shirt outside his house in Area 5B Barangay Sauyo last Friday night.
Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has started an investigation on the death last Tuesday of a 22-year-old man who was arrested in an anti-loitering operation of local policemen in Quezon City last week.

CHR chairman Chito Gascon said their investigators are looking into the case of Genesis Argoncillo, who died while in detention after he was arrested in Novaliches for not wearing a shirt outside his house in Area 5B Barangay Sauyo last Friday night.

Argoncillo’s family alleged that the victim was beaten while in detention and died on June 19.

The police, however, denied this and said that Argoncillo died after he complained of shortness of breath.

Gascon said the CHR is willing to conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

The CHR earlier warned the Philippine National Police (PNP) against its campaign to round up loiterers on the streets. 

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said it is illegal to arrest those who are believed to be loiterers simply because they are “potential trouble for the public.”

“No one should be deprived of their freedom without going through due process mandated by the law,” she said in Filipino. 

“Unless a person commits an illegal act, there is no reason for him to be arrested,” she added. 

De Guia noted that the law prohibits warrantless arrests except in certain circumstances. 

She said it is not right to identify all loiterers as criminals. 

PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde stood by the statement of the Quezon City police that Argoncillo died of difficulty in breathing contrary to the claim of his family that he succumbed to police brutality.

Albayalde said there is no reason for Quezon City Police District director Chief Supt. Joselito Esquivel to hide the true cause behind the death of Argoncillo, alias Tisoy, at the Novaliches police station.

No less than Argoncillo’s attending doctor Jethiel Fabon certified that the detainee’s body bore no signs of external injuries.

He pointed out that Argoncillo was one of five detainees in the congested jail of the Novaliches station who died due to difficulty in breathing the past days.

Even during his term at the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), Albayalde said at least 26 detainees died due to various illnesses brought about by jail congestion.

Esquivel said that the death of Argoncillo was due to the congested jails and not because he was maltreated at the police station. 

“We would like to make it clear there was no violent and inhumane treatment on Arconcillo contrary to allegations of the family, citing a supposed broken rib and bruise marks on the cadaver,” he said in a statement.

Argoncillo’s sister Marilou said in a public social media post that the family is seeking justice for the death of her brother, who she claimed was picked up by police for not wearing a shirt on the night of June 15.

However, QCPD said that Argoncillo was arrested for alarm and scandal after police received a complaint that he was drunk and looking for trouble. 

Esquivel said that his policemen are under strict orders to follow protocols that respect the human rights of suspects and detainees. 

Still, he said they are conducting a thorough investigation on Argoncillo’s death and will prosecute policemen if they were involved in violence. 

“Should any police be involved, we assure the public and the family of the deceased of full transparency,” Esquivel said.

He said they are investigating if Argoncillo was killed by other detainees inside the detention facility of the Novaliches police. 

Esquivel said he immediately ordered the relief of the Novaliches police station commander and the assigned jail officer to pave the way for investigation on possible lapses which might have led to Argoncillo’s death. 

Relieved were Supt. Carlito Grijaldo and jail officer Police Officer 3 Dennis Saño.

He also said the police have in custody two suspects in Argoncillo’s death, identified as Justin Mercado and Richard Bautista, members of the Sputnik gang.

Witnesses identified the two suspects as the ones who beat up Argoncillo.

Still, Esquivel maintained that he received a report from the attending physician that there were no external injuries on Argoncillo’s body at the time of his death. 

Argoncillo’s relatives, however, reportedly gave police investigators a death certificate that showed that the victim died of blunt force trauma to the head, chest and neck.

The QCPD head said he is ready to face investigations on his possible command responsibility over the incident.

Argoncillo was the fifth detainee to die inside jail cells of the QCPD in less than a month.

A day before Argoncillo’s death, Alex Andaman, 41, who was held on illegal gambling charges, died shortly after he was taken to the hospital for fever. 

On May 29, Jeffrey Norio, detained at the Novaliches police station for illegal gambling, was declared dead on arrival in the hospital.

After a few days, another inmate arrested for physical injury and unjust vexation, Niño Cruz, 39, died while being taken to the hospital.

Meanwhile, Paulo Lopez, who was a detainee of the Cubao Police station, died on June 4.

Leftist party-list group Bayan Muna urged the House of Representatives yesterday to look into the death of Argoncillo.

“This is really condemnable considering that Tisoy was just supposedly sitting near his house when he was arrested by the police. There is no reason to arrest him in the first place, even if they use the Civil Code for public nuisance,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said.

“Tisoy’s actions hardly fall under any of these categories and he certainly does not deserve to be arrested or killed for sitting near his house. We are calling for a congressional investigation,” he said.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said yesterday that the crackdown on tambays is another brazen attempt to enforce the undeclared martial law nationwide.

The CPP said they stand together with the broad democratic sectors in denouncing the Duterte regime’s latest wholesale violation of human rights with the tambay crackdown. 

The CPP said that this fascist move is anti-poor and violates the rights of the downtrodden. 

Barangay officials

Albayalde said yesterday that barangay officials should be at the forefront of President Duterte’s order to clear the streets of tambays or vagrants.

Albayalde pointed out that barangay officials know almost everybody in their neighborhood and they should lead the campaign against tambay, with the police as backup, and file necessary charges in court.

“We should coordinate with barangay officials and ask them to join us in our campaign as they know almost everybody in the neighborhood,” explained Albayalde.

“They would guide us in enforcing ordinances because they know who are those with criminal minds from those law-abiding ones.”

The PNP chief said that Undersecretary Martin Diño of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has proposed the involvement of barangay officials in the government’s campaign to rid the streets of tambays.

Albayalde directed policemen to be properly guided by the police operational procedure (POP) while performing their duty so the PNP will have uniform guidelines for the implementation of the campaign.

Albayalde pointed out that the POP is in the PNP’s manual and policemen enforcing the campaign against tambays should memorize them to be guided accordingly and prevent erroneous arrests.

The PNP issued the guidelines for the uniform implementation of the campaign against tambays following complaints by several persons arrested by mistake in Makati City, which led to the relief of a precinct commander and one of his men.

Albayalde said ground commanders, or even station commanders, should accompany their men in enforcing city ordinances.

“The ground commanders knew whether a person standing in a street corner is waiting for a tricycle ride or has something else in mind,” he said.

But he emphasized that what is paramount in their task to rid the streets of tambays is respect for human rights.

Albayalde explained that the PNP has a hard time enforcing city ordinances, especially in Metro Manila, because each city has different penalties imposed against violators.

In the first week of implementation, a total of 7,291 vagrants were arrested in Metro Manila, showing a rapid increase each day the NCRPO conducts the campaign.

To prevent congestion in jails, Albayalde urged police commanders to innovate, like imposing penalties such as pushups or community service for those arrested, instead of jail time.

According to Albayalde, those arrested for violations of city ordinances should not be put in jail but instead confined in vacant offices.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. disputed yesterday the reports of the PNP indicating that over 7,000 have been arrested during the police operations against tambays.

“I dispute if 7,000 people were actually arrested. We don’t have the space for that, given that we have overcrowding in our jail facilities,” Roque said at a press briefing yesterday in Malacañang.

“I think it’s physically impossible for one day to accommodate 7,000. They could have been accosted, not actually arrested,” he said.

He also defended the President’s order, which is aimed at reducing the commission of crimes.

“We need to send the message to communities that the cops are going around to deter crimes,” Roque said, adding Duterte can issue such directive as the chief implementor of the law.

The Eastern Police District (EPD) would continue to enforce city ordinances in its jurisdiction to make the area a safe place to live, work and do business, a ranking police official said yesterday.

Chief Supt. Alfred Corpus, EPD director, issued his directive after his command topped the arrests made during the implementation of the campaign against tambays from June 13 to 20.

Records showed that the EPD posted the highest number of arrests made for the period with 2,237, closely followed by the Southern Police District (SPD) with 2,046.

The QCPD arrested 1,146, while Northern Police District and Manila Police District with 1,011 and 851, respectively.

Supt. Jenny Tecson, SPD spokesperson, said that 566 alleged vagrants were arrested from Wednesday until yesterday morning.

She said the tambays were rounded up in Pasay, Makati, Parañaque, Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, Taguig and Pateros.  

Tecson said that 299 of the 566 arrested persons are minors, 118 for being topless, 117 for drinking liquor in public places, 30 for smoking in public places and two alleged illegal barkers. 

Northern Police District (NPD) Director Chief Supt. Gregorio Lim yesterday said the 125 alleged tambays were arrested from Wednesday to Thursday in Caloocan, Valenzuela, Malabon and Navotas.

The Bulacan police rounded up 167 persons on Wednesday night and early yesterday morning.

The police operations were conducted in the cities of San Jose del Monte, Meycauayan and the towns of Angat, Bocaue, Bulakan, Bustos, Calumpit, Hagonoy, Marilao, Pandi, Plaridel and Pulilan.

Policemen in Pagbilao, Quezon also arrested three persons as part of the campaign against tambays last Wednesday night.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said yesterday the campaign against tambays should be left at the local level.

Lacson, a former PNP chief, said the issue of tambays is best addressed at the local level, “without having to elevate it to the national level.”

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito cited the experience of San Juan City where the rounding up of tambays was done on a case-to-case basis. – With Non Alquitran, Jose Rodel Clapano, Romina Cabrera, Jess Diaz, Robertzon Ramirez, Emmanuel Tupas, Marvin Sy, Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Michelle Zoleta, Ramon Efren Lazaro, Artemio Dumlao

CHITO GASCON

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

OSCAR ALBAYALDE

PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE

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