Thousands apprehended in Philippine president Duterte’s latest war — on loitering

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, famous for his bloody war on drugs and his obsession with social order, says the anti-loitering crackdown is a ‘crime prevention campaign.’ (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2018
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Thousands apprehended in Philippine president Duterte’s latest war — on loitering

  • The crackdown has been condemned by activists, legal groups and opposition lawmakers
  • Mark Lopez, a pro-Duterte blogger, said crime was a big problem and the public welcomed Duterte’s approach, regardless of what his opponents say

MANILA: Each night, police in teams of about a dozen fan out across the most rundown areas of the Philippine capital, rounding up slum-dwellers who linger in the streets, or teenagers who play in makeshift computer gaming shops.
Children scavenging on mountains of trash are ordered home, their parents warned of jail if minors are seen out late again. Men found shirtless, and those smoking or drinking alcohol outdoors are taken to district offices, cautioned, and their names and addresses recorded.
This is a war on loitering — instigated by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, famous for his bloody war on drugs and his obsession with social order.
Duterte launched it out of the blue on June 13 during one of his trademark rambling speeches, when he said people hanging out in the streets should be ordered home, and if they refused, he would personally tie their hands and drop them into a river.
Manila police took that as a directive, implementing it with gusto and some 59,000 people have since been apprehended.
The crackdown has been condemned by activists, legal groups and opposition lawmakers, who say it has no legal basis as vagrancy was decriminalized in 2012 and that Duterte is again harassing Manila’s poor, already traumatized by the war on drugs.
“This is all about imposing control on the poor, by using force or the threat of force to intimidate them. What for? The intention is to keep them from resisting, from fighting back,” said Antonio Tinio, an opposition Congressman.
But Duterte, who says the anti-loitering crackdown is a “crime prevention campaign,” has not suffered any backlash.
His public support ratings, built on the back of his reputation as disciplinarian who gets things done, remain high. A Pulse Asia poll conducted last month showed 88 percent of Filipinos approved of Duterte’s performance as president.
Formerly a mayor for two decades, Duterte built his career on his ‘tough-on-crime’ image. When he ran for president, he promised to kill thousands of narcotics dealers.
In his two years in office, police have done just that, killing at least 4,500 people they say were drug suspects who resisted arrest. In his annual State of the Nation Address on Monday, Duterte vowed the war on drugs would continue to be “relentless and chilling.”
In its first week, the anti-loitering drive also resulted in death. Genesis Argoncillo, a 25-year old arrested for not wearing a shirt, died after being beaten by his cellmates.
Since then, fewer people are being held overnight or longer in Manila’s notoriously overcrowded police station cells. Most are booked and freed, about a third are fined and some are charged with offenses.
Two resolutions by a congressman and by a senator calling for a legislative probe into the crackdown were filed on June 26, although it is unclear whether one will be launched. Duterte commands a big majority in both the Congress and the Senate.
Vice President Leni Robredo, elected separately to Duterte, says police now have a license to abuse and lawyers should help poor communities to know their rights. The National Union of Public Lawyers has likened the campaign to martial law under Ferdinand Marcos from 1972 to 1981.
“Such police state tactics were historically experimented or resorted to by fascist dictators to ultimately silence critics and resistance,” it said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque did not respond to a request for comment on the comparison with martial law. But he has denied the campaign is anti-poor and argues police are just targeting violations of city ordinances and laws.
Duterte has also denied ordering arrests of loiterers, saying he told police only to frisk people.
He argues the measures are legal as he can invoke the principle of “parens patriae” (parent of the nation), and recently told police to follow orders and ignore “deranged constitutionalists” questioning the legality of the drive.
Mark Lopez, a pro-Duterte blogger, said crime was a big problem and the public welcomed Duterte’s approach, regardless of what his opponents say.
“They really want to create this fear among the people that the president is anti-poor,” Lopez said. “The president is just reminding the police to enforce existing laws.”
While two inmates have been charged over Argoncillo’s death and five police removed, outrage over the crackdown has been limited.
One exception was the arrest of several call center workers chatting on the street having just finished their night shift. The news went viral and two officers in Manila’s main business district were fired.
“They (the police) made us watch the declaration of President Rodrigo Duterte about the anti-loitering law ... They told us, ‘because the president said it, it is immediately a law’,” one of the workers wrote on her Facebook page.
John Ribo, who works at a law firm, said the problem was that police did not know how to implement the campaign.
“It’s too much,” he said. “I’m more concerned I’ll get arrested by police who want to earn more money.”


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.