What You Need to Know About the Current “Anti-Tambay” Crackdown in the Philippines

“Tambay” is a Tagalog verb that means “to hang around.” In the vernacular, however, it’s often used as a noun to describe people who loiter, especially in public areas and particularly at night.


Last Thursday, President Duterte issued a directive to the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) newly-promoted cops, ordering them to go after the so-called tambays, saying:


My directive is ‘pag mag-istambay-istambay sabihin niyo, ‘Umuwi kayo. ‘Pag ‘di kayo umuwi, ihatid ko kayo don sa opisina ni ano don, Pasig’. Ako na ang bahala, ilagay mo lang diyan. Talian mo ‘yung kamay pati bin–ihulog mo diyan sa ano. Do not–you be strict. Part of confronting people just idling around. They are potential trouble for the public.” (My directive is if there is someone who stands by, tell them, ‘Go home. If you don’t go home, I will bring you to the office of – there in Pasig.’ Leave it up to me. Just put them there. Tie their hands together even the – drop them at – Do not – you be strict. Part of confronting people just idling around. They are potential trouble to the public.”)

President Rodrigo Duterte

Image Credit: Edith Mellinger


While vagrancy was decriminalized by Republic Act 10158 about six years ago, there are still local ordinances in place against loiterers smoking, urinating, and strolling around half-naked, and with good reason. PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde has said that there are several reports about street loiterers, particularly those who drink in public places, causing a lot of trouble in their local areas.


Most Filipinos are, of course, familiar with the scenario where a drunken “tambay” catcalls or otherwise picks a fight with an innocent passersby, thus causing many an altercation that often requires the intervention of barangay officials.


Image Credit: ABS-CBN


The campaign to rid the streets of loiterers as a means of crime prevention isn’t new by any means, and neither has it been free of controversy. In this case, opposition rose when a PNP taskforce wrongfully detained a group of people waiting outside their friend’s house in Makati City. The youths were eventually released, but the incident has led to feelings of unease and apprehension among the general population.


Got kids or loved ones living in the Philippines? Worried about how this directive might affect their safety? Here are some FAQ’s that would hopefully set your mind at ease:


Can Cops Arrest You For Simply Standing By?


In a word, no. On the other hand, you can be arrested if you are caught violating local ordinances while you’re at it. These can vary by area, but the most common violations are, as mentioned prior, smoking, urinating, or going around half-naked in public.


What Exactly Was the President’s Order?


Technically, President Duterte didn’t call for the arrest of the “tambays.” His directive merely instructed police officers to make loiterers leave the streets and go back home. Failing that, they are supposed to bring them to an office, the location of which was unspecified.


Are There Penalties for Police Officers Who Are Found to Have Detained People With No Basis?


Yes. Officers who are caught illegally arresting people will face administrative and criminal charges, which range from suspensions to jail time. Makati city’s police chief sacked one of the officers involved in the wrongful detention of Matt Dimaranan and his friends, for example.


Anyone who felt that their rights were abused under this measure are encouraged to file a complaint with the local authorities, though it should be noted that the trauma alone from such incidents would deter many from actually doing so.


Do The Police Have Proper Guidelines in Place?

arrested bystanders

Image Credit: Edd Gumban


Rules and implementing policies can vary across cities and municipalities, but the order has been given for these to be consolidated and distributed to local cops. The PNP has also promised to prepare general guidelines for the anti-tambay campaign and to disseminate these all over the country within the week.


Nearly 3,000 people have reportedly been arrested for various offenses all over the country ever since the directive was issued. To be fair, there has been some improvement. Where I’m from, the roadsides are now much quieter at night, for instance.


We all want this campaign to succeed in lessening (if not completely eliminating) the criminal elements that have plagued our streets for so long, but without bringing misery and fear onto innocent bystanders. One can only hope that our authorities will take the necessary steps to ensure such an outcome.

Serena Estrella

Serena joined Remit back in 2016, and has tormented its Marketing Head constantly ever since. To get through the rigors of writing about grave concerns like exchange rates, citizenship requirements, and PH-AU news, she likes to blast Mozart, Vivaldi, ONE OK ROCK, and Shigeru Umebayashi in the background. She does a mean Merida voice in her spare time too.


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