Thousands nabbed in Duterte's anti-loitering war

A police officer interrogating a shirtless man during an anti-loitering night patrol in Manila early this month. Men found shirtless, and those smoking or drinking alcohol outdoors, are taken to district offices, where they are cautioned and their na
A police officer interrogating a shirtless man during an anti-loitering night patrol in Manila early this month. Men found shirtless, and those smoking or drinking alcohol outdoors, are taken to district offices, where they are cautioned and their names and addresses recorded.PHOTO: REUTERS

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, where they are 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.

Mr 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 decriminalised in 2012 and that Mr Duterte is again harassing the poor.

"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 Mr Antonio Tinio, an opposition Congressman.

But Mr Duterte, who says the anti-loitering crackdown is a "crime prevention campaign", has not suffered any backlash.

His public support ratings, on the back of his reputation as a disciplinarian who gets things done, remain high. A Pulse Asia poll conducted last month showed 88 per cent of Filipinos approved of his performance as president.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2018, with the headline 'Thousands nabbed in Duterte's anti-loitering war'. Print Edition | Subscribe