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.”


UK PM Theresa May loses historic Brexit vote

Updated 34 min 39 sec ago
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UK PM Theresa May loses historic Brexit vote

  • Defeat now raises the question about whether she will try again, is removed from office, delays Brexit -- or if Brexit even happens at all
  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tables a motion of no confidence in May's government

LONDON: Britain’s parliament on Tuesday resoundingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, triggering a no-confidence vote in her government and plunging its plans to leave the EU into further chaos.
MPs voted 432 to 202 against May’s plan for taking Britain out of the European Union, the biggest parliamentary defeat for a government in modern British political history.
With a deal that took nearly two years to craft in tatters and her government’s future hanging in the balance, EU leaders sounded a note of exasperation, urging Britain to come out and say what it actually wants.
“If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” EU president Donald Tusk tweeted.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, warned of a heightened risk of a “no deal” Brexit — an outcome that could disrupt trade, slow down the UK economy, and wreak havoc on the financial markets.
The government of Ireland — the only EU member state with a land border with Britain — said it would now intensify preparations to cope with a “disorderly Brexit.”
And German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, representing the EU’s most dominant economy and leading political voice, called the vote “a bitter day for Europe.”
Most lawmakers have always opposed Brexit, as have some leading members of the government, creating a contradiction that has been tearing apart Britain ever since a June 2016 referendum began its divorce from the other 27 EU states.
Moments after Tuesday’s outcome, which was met with huge cheers by hundreds of anti-Brexit campaigners who watched the vote on big screens, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn submitted a motion of no-confidence in May’s government, calling her defeat “catastrophic.”
The vote is expected on Wednesday at 1900 GMT.
May sought to strike a conciliatory tone, telling MPs they had the right to challenge her leadership and promising to hold more talks to salvage a workable solution by the rapidly approaching March 29 Brexit deadline.
She promised to hold discussions with MPs from across parliament to identify ideas “that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House.”
“If these meetings yield such ideas, the government will then explore them with the European Union.”
Downing Street said May will then return to parliament with a new Brexit proposal on Monday.
With their nation again in turmoil, noisy supporters and opponents of Brexit, rallied outside the ancient parliament building in London.
“It could end up being the day that will lead to us leaving with no deal!” said 25-year-old Simon Fisher, who backs a swift and sharp break with the EU.
A much larger rally nearby in support of a second referendum turned Parliament Square, dotted with statues of past UK leaders, into a sea of EU flags.
Economists said the scale of May’s defeat — on the upper end of most predictions — now also put pressure on Brussels to make more meaningful compromises.
The pound surged higher against the dollar and euro after the vote, seemingly buoyed by May’s promise to seek a compromise with her opponents.
“Markets project beliefs and the underlying belief is that nobody’s going to be committing economic suicide,” BK Asset Management’s Boris Schlossberg said.
But businesses voiced alarm about the outcome, which does nothing to resolve uncertainty that has been dampening the UK investment climate for months.
“Financial stability must not be jeopardized in a game of high-stakes political poker,” warned Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation, the body governing the British capital’s massive financial district.
May made it her mission to carry out the wishes of voters after she became prime minister a month after the referendum, putting aside her own initial misgivings and stating repeatedly that “Brexit means Brexit.”
But her deal raised concern that Britain could end up locked in an unfavorable trading relationship with the EU.
Criticism of the deal was focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership — a tortuous process that could take several years.
Arlene Foster, head of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party upon which May relies for her parliamentary majority, said May needed to win binding concessions from Brussels to secure her vote.
“Reassurances whether in the form of letters or warm words, will not be enough,” said Foster.
“The prime minister must now go back to the European Union and seek fundamental change to the Withdrawal Agreement.”
Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that May could ask to delay Britain’s divorce from the EU after almost half a century of membership.
But a diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed.