Manila cops arresting children in crackdown

Police keen to impress 'tough-guy' Duterte; lawyers group says the poor being targeted

Youngsters detained at a police station in Manila last Wednesday after they were found outdoors past the curfew hour. There are fears that such incidents are traumatising the city's children.
Youngsters detained at a police station in Manila last Wednesday after they were found outdoors past the curfew hour. There are fears that such incidents are traumatising the city's children.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MANILA • Armed police are detaining crying children, bewildered drunks and shirtless men throughout the Philippine capital - in a night-time blitz that is offering an authoritarian taste of life under incoming president Rodrigo Duterte.

He won last month's elections in a landslide, largely on a pledge to end or suppress what he called rampant crime, warning that the Philippines was in danger of becoming a narco-state and that tens of thousands of criminals would be killed in his planned crackdown.

Since winning, he has also said that he would impose late-night bans on children out in the streets, alcohol sales and the national passion of karaoke singing - insisting that his crackdown must start with the fundamentals of discipline in society.

But efforts by the Manila police to clean up the streets ahead of Mr Duterte being sworn in have spotlighted other controversial aspects of his law-and-order campaign.

Eager to burnish their tough-guy credentials for their new boss, the Manila police have started in recent weeks to impose their own versions of night-time curfews that have seen hundreds of people detained.

In some districts, the police have even named the crackdowns Oplan Rody, an acronym for Rid the Streets of Drinkers and Youths. Rody is also Mr Duterte's nickname.

"We all know that drinking in the streets and youth roaming the streets at night are a formula for crime," Senior Superintendent Jemar Modequillo told Agence France-Presse as he led Oplan Rody's sweep through a large southern Manila slum called CAA. As AFP accompanied Mr Modequillo's forces through the area, children who were below the age of 10 were taken away in police vehicles.

Two girls were in tears as they were led away by armed officers even though they were out with their adult relatives.

During the operation, the children were taken to the police station for lectures and to be picked up later by their parents.

Meanwhile, in another part of Manila, parents whose children were found outdoors at night alone were jailed.

Mr Duterte has said he also intends to jail parents for "abandonment". The children would be sent to the already overwhelmed social welfare department to be cared for.

During Mr Modequillo's operation, more than 100 adults deemed to be drunk or disorderly were detained and given two options - either do 40 push-ups at the police station, or be slapped with a fine and a short prison stint. All chose to do the push-ups.

Some said that they had been unfairly detained.

Seated on the floor at the police station, Mr Rafael Ganton insisted that he was sober, saying that his apparent crime was being outside on a sweltering night without a shirt on.

"I was just going to lock the doors of our billiards shop," he said.

Mr Jose Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group, which provides lawyers for victims of human rights abuses, said the operations were creating concern on many levels. One worry was that the armed police were traumatising children.

Mr Diokno also voiced concern that Mr Duterte's war on crime, like Oplan Rody, would target the poor.

He told AFP: "They are the weakest sector of society, the easiest to oppress - they are already oppressed."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'Manila cops arresting children in crackdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe