TURNING POINT: On Tambays and the Banditry in West Philippine Sea

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews /27 June) – Just because the word harassment had not come from the fishers’ mouth when interviewed by the media did not mean that there was no harassment or that they were not harassed by the Chinese coast guards.

A fishing boat is an extension of a fisher’s dwelling.  It’s a private rest and work place. When armed men barged in such dwelling without permission and confiscate from the residents their valuable possession, say, the day’s prized catch, the act is armed robbery, plain and simple. The intruders’ act was intimidating and could discourage fishers from venturing again into the country’s rich traditional fishing ground. Thus, no matter how one looks at it, the resultant psychological pressure is harassment that affects one’s livelihood and source of income.

Of course, in the hierarchy of crimes such as obtaining here, harassment is subsumed by armed robbery and may not be given anymore much attention. Whatever, it is the duty and responsibility of the government to protect its citizens. The citizens should not be sacrificed in the altar of a subservient   foreign and economic policy.

Meanwhile, as if the disturbing rush of arrest of tambays or loafers in local stores and street corners was not bad enough, comes the alarming  news of a guy who was picked up by the police for being shirtless or had no covering in his upper body. The unfortunate guy was seen in that state of nakedness inside his own dwelling when seen by the police while patrolling in the area and thus was invited to visit their command post. When did being shirtless in your home become a crime? Males generally remove the upper cover of their body when it’s unbearably warm or when they are engaged in a strenuous physical activity. Since ancient times, Filipinos, male and female, do not consider such sight vulgar or scandalous.

What is sickening was the report that one of the tambays that was arrested by the police  died while in their custody. The relatives claimed the victim was beaten to death; the police declared that the victim   died of asphyxiation or inability to breathe because of the congested condition of the detention center. Indeed, an investigation to determine the victim’s abusers is critical and important to uphold justice, curb this impunity against life, and, on the side, correct or improve the custodial management of crime suspects. The fate of the victim, Genesis “Tisoy” Agoncillo,  must not repeat. It should be the end not the beginning of similar jarring incident. One basic question to ask along this is, why should a mere suspect  be clamped inside an over-crowded den of inmates at the risk of his health and security? The police authorities are sensitive to criticism on human rights violation. Yet, their insensitiveness in handling suspects is an unconscionable human rights violation, glaring enough to avoid notice.

On the other hand, the law says that a person may only be arrested, without a need of a warrant, if he is caught committing a crime or  about  to commit one, not when he just is sitting in one corner musing on his fate or letting time pass  in the absence of any meaningful thing to do.

You cannot exactly divine why a person is a tambay.  He could be in such state of idleness because he could not find a job, or is there in the corner store to drink a bottle of beer to relax after a day’s hard toil or to meet friends for a light bonding session where for their class a more comfortable water hole is unaffordable. The police have asserted that those arrested, which  counted around 8000 within 4 days after the President’s harangue on tambays, were not mere tambay but loafers who had violated various local ordinances.

But had the police really examined the local ordinances in their place of assignment before making those swooping arrests?  The law enforcers were so quick and fast like they simply responded without thinking to the insinuation  of the President about tambays as troublesome or a threat to  community peace. Their response to the commander-in-chief’s ranting  against current crime-of-interest  appeared faster and more animated  than the  Tokhang drive against illegal drugs. But the victims are one and the same, mostly the poor and the so-called scums of society. Sen. Gordon, an ally of the President was right this time in commenting that the loafers should not be arrested and jailed but should instead be given jobs to end their loitering and become productive.

Not very long ago upon his return from a state visit to South Korea, PRRD hinted to the public  that his office might  take over in running  after big-time criminals that discouraged foreign investments. But nothing happened, nothing has changed. In the current crackdown, the perceived criminals in the gutters remain the same target or whipping boys of the regime.

This police over-zealousness to crack down on petty crimes or imagined felonies ought to transfer and apply to a real  and serious felony – to the banditry in West Philippine Sea. Of course, if they do, they would not earn pogi points but might be damned by the Commander-in-Chief who, by his neglect and inaction, has accorded the Chinese nationals first class untouchable status in our sovereign territory.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)