Manila: President Rodrigo Duterte has said that he never gave an order to police to arrest bystanders while pointing out that authorities are just implementing local laws.
“I never said, ‘arrest them. What I said to tambay [bystanders] was: ‘Go home. Do not congregate,’” the president said in Davao City during a speech delivered during the National Information and Communications Technology (NICT) Summit.
The government had been receiving criticisms over the perceived “crackdown” on certain sectors of the society, particularly the urban poor, after the Philippine National Police (PNP) rounded up people violating local ordinances such as the one barring men from walking around half naked in public or drinking in public, among others.
PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde had said that the campaign aims to make the streets “safer,” especially during night time, when most crimes are generally reported.
Certain sections of society, including those guarding civil liberties, view the summary arrest of bystanders as a crackdown on the oppressed and an affront to human rights. Reports said that more than 7,000 people had been arrested in the drive.
Commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR) called on the PNP to suspend the ‘anti-tambay’ campaign while saying that guidelines for carrying out the campaign should be clarified first.
But Duterte said there is no need for such actions as he and authorities such as the police are only performing their mandate. “I never said arrest them. But if you are drinking in an alley, such as those in the squatter’s area and making the road a virtual extension of your home, we will really arrest you,” the president said.
He added that ensuring the safety of Filipinos is part of his tasks as the elected head of government.
“Parens patriae is a Latin phrase for ‘father of the nation,’ which refers to the principle that a political authority carries the responsibility of the protection of the citizens,” he said.
Meanwhile, the presidential palace dismissed a joint statement issued by 38 members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) calling on the government to stop the alleged extrajudicial killings in its crackdown against illegal drugs, saying there is no need for such a reminder.
“Even without such a call, Congress is already implementing the law,” Roque said as he referred to a joint statement sent June 19 by the UNHRC’s 38th session on the human rights situation in the Philippines.
In that document, the UNHRC warned the Philippines that it must act to ensure human rights in the country failing which the organisation would be forced to initiate a punitive response.
“The Philippines is a current member of the Human Rights Council. States which are elected to join the Council should lead by example and are expected to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights during their time as members,” the document, which was signed by 38 of its members, said.
“If needed, the Council may take further steps, including a more formal Council initiative to try and ensure that member states meet their human rights obligations,” the UNHRC said.
The Philippines has been under criticism from the UNHRC over the past several years over its human rights track record.
It may be recalled that even during the administration of presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III, the country received similar censures from the UNHRC over its human rights record.