Having been pelted by the international community with unceasing criticisms regarding its war on drugs, the Duterte administration opened a new frontier with its anti-loitering campaign. Days after its launching, the campaign netted thousands of “arrests” for just hanging around, not wearing a shirt while in public, among others. President Rudy Duterte had to issue a clarification that he did not say for the policemen to arrest loafers after “Tisoy,” one of the arrested “tambay” was mauled to death while in the company of hardcore criminals in the same jail cell.
Predictably, Liberal Party leaders led by VP Leni Robredo began lambasting the campaign and calling it “anti-poor.” She was joined by voices from the civil society, nationalist groups and the Catholic Church deploring the campaign as having shades of the anti-drug campaign while making a case that loafing is not a crime. Duterte agrees that tambays are not breaking the law by just hanging out but “if they’re having a drinking session and has converted the middle of the street as their living room,” then they have become trouble makers (pasaway).
Both sides are correct but why the disagreement? Well, this is another case of the vagueness of the president’s implementing guidelines (or lack thereof) being lost in translation. The cops heard “hulihin” meaning arrest but the president is now saying “takutin” (accost them) which are two different things. Duterte is miffed because once again, he is being criticized for trying to restore order on the streets. This is the mayor in him.
As an experienced mayor before he was catapulted to the highest office of the land, Duterte worked closely with the cops including patrolling the city by himself and therefore has developed a feel for these kinds of things: tambays engaging in physical/verbal harassment, intimidation, or just being plain obnoxious. He takes pride in the prosperity of Davao City that he equate to maintaining a safe and orderly city. No question there but the means of how he maintained law and order in Davao City is the subject of intense scrutiny given allegations of summary killings for the bad guys.
Duterte is still wet behind the ears when it comes to big picture issues affecting the country thus his focus on domestic issues such as illegal drugs, vagrancy, smoking in public, vulgar outbursts and scandalous public display of his machismo. Foreign policy is new to him and he is trying to cope with his own version of the world through his myopic lenses.
The opposition, on the other hand, provides tons of criticism but lacks positive suggestions on how to address these societal issues that the president deemed important. In his mind, if he can control the archipelago through a “new society” of law abiding citizens, then he could attract investors who would feel safe in the country. Duterte is not alone in this as he is supported by a great number of the citizenry who like Duterte, are tired of illegal drugs influencing politics and corrupting government, of tambays engaging in harassment and intimidation at the marketplace, street corners, schools, and even in public places.
The Liberal Party being the biggest opposition group needs to balance their concerns with reality. Majority of Filipinos are poor and if we follow VP Robredo’s thinking that “operation tambay” is anti-poor that majority of Filipinos would raise a howl and express support such campaign. But other than those affected by the sweep, there is no groundswell of support out there. So much so that Duterte’s kissing in public of a married Filipina in South Korea did not elicit the kind of condemnation from the majority. Although the intellectuals were horrified by such vulgar and unstatesman-like public display of arrogance, the poor laughed it all off as a “dirty-old man’s” joke. In other words, the opposition has a credibility issue.
The lack of trust (and just plain animosity) between the administration and the opposition is really hindering progress and damaging the economy. Duterte wants to hammer the opposition into submission and supplication by strong arm tactics like removal from office Aquino’s appointees from the COMELEC, the Supreme Court; or harassing them with jail threats or including them on the drug list like Sen. Leila De Lima. The opposition is trying to obstruct Duterte’s efforts but lacks the required votes in Congress.
Despite the legal noises that has clothed these societal issues, what the country is going through is mostly political that requires political solutions. There are so many important issues now confronting the country that one or two of them could have far-reaching impact on the future of the Philippines. The Consultative Commission appointed by the president is now readying their proposal to switch the country’s form of government to that espousing federalism. Once the proposals are made, right behind it will be calls to convene Congress as a Consultative Assembly (ConAss) or through a constitutional convention (ConCon) to amend or change the Constitution.
There must be a middle ground for these issues and it is questionable whether both sides will move to the center to move the country forward. Duterte is committing acts that could land him and his trusted lieutenants in jail but he is beefing up the judiciary with pro-Duterte diehards including naming his own Supreme Court Chief Justice. The opposition, on the other hand, is committing the same error they made in 2016 by espousing the yellow version of the Liberal Party while positioning itself for the next presidential elections. The mistaken belief here is that if you criticize the government often enough that the rest will follow.
Majority of Filipinos have grown tired of the old politics and repudiated the party in power in 2016. VP Robredo is the heir apparent for the Liberal Party and will most likely be fielded in the next presidential election. Robredo needs to start dissecting the issues and formulate a win-win approach if she wants to start chipping away at Duterte’s base. She cannot overemphasize democracy every time an issue is confronting the country. Filipinos loves democracy but also admire a strongman who is unafraid to break the status quo, to rock the boat. Being prim and proper are admirable traits but will not win majority votes in this day and age.
Some of the questions that Robredo needs to tackle requires some common sense approach. For example, federalism is something that opposing it now is no longer an option. With supermajorities in Congress and a Supreme Court pliant to the wishes of Duterte, the switch is bound to happen. What are the important safeguards that should be included?
As more and more former Aquino officials (including Aquino himself) are being hauled to court for corruption, Robredo’s anti-corruption message or criticism of Duterte will be discredited and drowned in the midst of it. The faltering peso is a legitimate issue for the opposition but I’ve yet to hear a sensible proposal to salvage it and find solutions beneficial to the poor. The economy is always a potent area to get the attention of those suffering.
Accosting or arresting tambays is obviously not the solution. If there are more jobs available out there then perhaps more people will be at work than loitering around. But we all know that’s a pipe dream. Yes, the police can always find a reason to arrest someone for disturbing the peace, but is that really a good use of police resources? More sensible solutions (like involving barangay officials in policing) can be found and if everyone put their minds together.