Police set to use 'anti-tambay' template for quarantine enforcement

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Police set to use 'anti-tambay' template for quarantine enforcement
Amid Duterte's 2018 crackdown on loitering, lawyers urged the public to be aware of their rights as ignorance of it can lead to abuses by authorities.

MANILA, Philippines — Enforcement of health protocols against the coronavirus has shifted to the barangay level, with police looking at intensified "discipline-based ordinances" and bans on loitering, drinking, and smoking as "tools" to clamp down on quarantine violators—all reminiscent of the administration's 2018 crackdown on loitering.

According to Police Gen. Archie Gamboa, PNP chief, at his Monday press briefing, the national police — upon instruction from President Duterte and in coordination with local governments — is stepping up the anti-crime drive and enforcement of local ordinances "to arrest the rise of common street crimes amidst the national health emergency."

It's unclear what this new claim of rising street crime is founded on since data from Joint Task Force COVID Shield show that the crime rate in the country has been slashed by more than half since the enhanced community quarantine was implemented in March—a statistic the force brings up when justifying the deployment of special forces in Metro Cebu.

Its own data release sent to reporters Monday afternoon also highlights that for the 118 days of community quarantine, crime incidence went down by 53% in Luzon, from 10,019 crimes recorded from November 20, 2019, to March 16.

During that time, 43,322 violators of quarantine protocols were arrested in Luzon alone. 14,530 of them are still detained. 

The current rhetoric harkens back to the government's aggressive campaign against loitering in 2018, which also came as a directive straight from Duterte's mouth and during which the warrantless arrests of thousands and a litany of rights violations were slammed by the government's own human rights commission and other international watchdogs

Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, the commander of the government's quarantine enforcement arm—Metro Manila police chief at the time the drive was carried out—said himself that the same crackdown could work in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Rise in common street crime?
Data from the government's quarantine enforcement task force shows the swift dip in crime incidence across the board since community quarantine was implemented.
Release / Joint Task Force COVID Shield

RELATED: 20 things you need to know about the 'anti-tambay' drive | CHR probes death of ‘tambay’ in jail

"On the part of the JTF COVID Shield, we believe that these disciplinary measures using existing local ordinances against these kinds of offenses will reinforce the implementation of our quarantine rules," said Eleazar in an earlier statement by the task force.

"We believe that we can use this strategy against COVID-19 especially that we have been receiving complaints and observations about some of our kababayan who start to become complacent after some of the quarantine rules were eased," he added.

'Filipinos now more vulnerable to abuse'

As the campaign unfolded in 2018, critics cast fear that the campaign could lead to arbitrary arrests and illegal detention similar to those during the martial law era despite the government's insistence that it was meant to promote peace and order in the streets.

At the time, the New York-based Human Rights Watch also said that the drive on "tambays" targeted mostly poor communities and saw police "demonstrating their preference for wielding fear, intimidation, and arbitrary arrest to target vulnerable communities rather than respect for the rule of law," a criticism the same forces have faced throughout Duterte's handling of the pandemic. 

By virtue of Republic Act No. 10158, the law amending Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code, loitering is no longer a crime and has not been one since 2012 when it was signed.

In a statement Sunday, though, it was Eleazar who encouraged local government to craft tighter local ordinances to "empower" village watchmen and allow them to "help" law enforcement personnel against the virus. 

Eleazar is one among many public officials who pin the blame in the spread of the virus on the "discipline" and "failures" of the public despite data showing otherwise. 

READ: Gov't said Filipinos are 'pasaway' and violate quarantine, but data show otherwise | Task force: SAF a solution to Cebu City residents' 'failure' to follow health protocols

According to Gamboa at Monday's press briefing, a memorandum has already been issued to all Police Regional Offices and National Operational Support Units, reminding all police commanders of the following:

  1. "Ensure the strict implementation of laws and local ordinances through the arrest of violators such as those drinking and smoking in public places, roaming the streets without shirts, using karaoke beyond the allowed time, minors violating curfew hours, and others;"
  2. "Strictly enforce minimum health standard protocols such as wearing of face masks, social distancing and mass gatherings"
  3. "Increase police visibility through optimized personnel deployment in all places of convergence."

Copies of the memorandum have yet to be released, but Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, PNP spokesperson, said that its contents had already been outlined by Gamboa.

"I would like also to remind the public that we are still under community quarantine and as such, should strictly follow the health protocols to stop the spread of the virus. Cooperation and compliance are a must in this time of health crisis," Gamboa said. 

In an online exchange with Philstar.com, Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: "The directive to the police opens the door for more police abuse as the memorandum gives justification for police action even on such matters as 'roaming the streets without shirts' and karaoke singing." 

"Several cities and towns across the Philippines have ordinances that disallow these activities but most violators are fined by the barangays, not subjected to police action," Conde said. 

"By involving the police, who have already demonstrated their tendency to run roughshod on civil liberties and rights of ordinary FIlipinos, this memo makes these citizens more vulnerable to abusive police conduct," he added. 

Philstar.com also sought the comment of the Department of Interior and Local Government, though it has not yet responded as of this writing.  

'Disproportionate penalties for minor offenses'

With the recent signing of the anti-terrorism law, which authorizes the warrantless detention of people suspected of being terrorists for up to 24 days without formal charges—the door is left wide open for the same kind of crackdown to happen again, critics of the law have said.

Police rhetoric over the controversial bill, now a law, has been that they would practice maximum tolerance and uphold the safeguards in the law to ensure that it isn't abused. 

But protests against the same bill have been met with warrantless arrests that only led to violations of the very health protocols supposedly being enforced.

Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of rights monitor Karapatan, told Philstar.com in a text message: "If indeed the instant response of the Philippine National Police is to arrest individuals on cases of drinking and smoking in public places, those roaming the streets without shirts, or minors violating curfew hours, arresting and detaining them would be disproportionate penalties for these extremely minor offenses, which can otherwise be dealt with lesser penalties such as warnings or fines."

As it stands, elements of the Quezon City Police District along with the Quezon City Department of Public Order and Safety staged a "One Time, Big Time" operation and apprehended over 1,000 violators who were brought to the Amoranto Stadium for "process[ing] for proper disposition."

Personnel from the same district have been reported taking photos of protesters, and in one report by the Inquirer, even churchgoers. 

RELATED: 11 activists protesting enactment of Anti-Terrorism Law arrested in Cabuyao | Arrests amid pandemic violate government's own health, safety guidelines — CHR | Students allege harassment, procedural violations in Iligan City protest arrest

The national police have also not yet acknowledged the harassment, intimidation and procedural violations alleged by those placed in detention for social distancing reasons, and the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the law granting President Rodrigo Duterte sweeping special powers, has since expired. 

"Shouldn’t the PNP train its efforts and resources in going after big time criminals with backers or patrons in power? It seems that all it focuses on right now are arrests of rights defenders or critics and ordinary citizens," Palabay added. 

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