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.”


Philippine president wants to end anti-drug war in three years

Updated 39 min 4 sec ago
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Philippine president wants to end anti-drug war in three years

  • Philippines being investigated for extrajudicial killings
  • Anti-drug campaign signature policy of president

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he wanted to finish his war on drugs in three years, defying an international probe into his controversial and deadly campaign to rid the country of narcotics.
Duterte, who came to power in 2016, has made a ‘war on drugs’ the hallmark of his administration. 
But it has been reported that 20,000 people have been killed in what rights groups call a wave of “state-sanctioned violence.”
The firebrand president remains unfazed by the condemnation, and the cases filed against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his crackdown.
He insisted he would assume full responsibility for any consequences due to his decision to enforce the law, telling a military audience his goals.
“I’d like to finish this war, both (with the) Abu Sayyaf (a militant group) and also the communists, and the drug problem in about three years … we'd be able (to) ... reduce the activities of the illegal trade and fighting to the barest minimum.
“I’m not saying I am the only one capable (of achieving these goals) ... I assume full responsibility for all that would happen as a consequence of enforcing the law — whether against the criminals, the drug traffickers or the rebels who’d want to destroy government.”
Earlier this month, the Philippines withdrew from the ICC, citing the global body's interference in how the country was run as the reason.
On Tuesday, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines would continue despite its exit.
But the government has said it will not cooperate with the ICC, and has even warned its personnel about entering the country for the investigation.
There are Filipinos who support Duterte’s campaign, however, and believe it works. Among them is former policeman Eric Advincula.
He said there had been an improvement in the situation since Duterte came to power. 
“For one, the peace and order situation has improved, like for example in villages near our place where there used to be rampant drug peddling,” he told Arab News. 
“The price of illegal drugs is now higher, an indication that the supply also went down. Also, it was easy to catch drug peddlers before because they were doing their trade openly. But now they are more careful, you can't easily locate them.”
Official data from the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in February indicated that 5,176 ‘drug personalities’ were killed in the anti-drugs war between July 1, 2016 to Jan. 31, 2019.
More than 170,000 drug suspects have been arrested during a total of 119,841 anti-narcotics operations in the last two and a half years.