At Large

‘Standing without permission’

During a march-rally in my student activist days, we were all alarmed when we heard that some of our group members, who had been acting as “marshals” for the march, had been picked up by police and brought to the nearest police precinct.

Our young lawyers and negotiators rushed to the police station and secured the marshals’ release. But we all had a good laugh when we learned what the charge was. The three, according to the police, were guilty of “standing without permission.”


Technically, the term is vagrancy, a catch-all term to cover anybody seen loitering about public spaces without any specific purpose. Our statutes define a “vagrant” as “any person having no apparent means of subsistence, who has the physical ability to work and who neglects to apply himself or herself to some lawful calling,” or “any person found loitering about public or semi-public buildings or places or tramping or wandering about the country or the streets without visible means of support.” The term is further refined to refer to “any idle or dissolute person who lodges in houses of ill-fame; ruffians or pimps and those who habitually associate with prostitutes.”

Reading these definitions, I was tempted to call police to offer some tips on who they could pick up, including “people who’re famous for being famous,” celebrities, lifestyle bloggers and hangers-on.


But then, even these folks have nothing to fear from law enforcers, even if the President has ordered that all vagrants and “istambays” be picked up off the streets and hauled off to jail.

This is because PNoy signed back in 2012 RA 10158 which decriminalizes vagrancy. The law’s principal author in the Senate was Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito (who lately hasn’t had “any visible means of support” and, in fact, faces jail time on a plunder charge). When the measure was signed into law, Ejercito rejoiced and denounced the old vagrancy statute as “outdated” and “anti-poor.”

It was anti-women, too. The vagrancy law was too often applied on women whom police suspected of indulging in the world’s oldest profession but without any evidence of their trade.

In fact, the decriminalizing of the anti-vagrancy law stemmed from one such case, when police barged into a disco and arrested four young women on the dance floor for “vagrancy.” The women were apparently unescorted by dates or
supposed customers.

One of the girls happened to know then Makati City Rep. Michael Defensor and the congressman rushed to the police station to secure their release. A flurry of charges and counter-charges ensued, although it was clear that the police did indeed overstep their bounds since dancing on a disco dance floor cannot by any stretch of imagination be classified as “vagrancy.”

Which is why the President’s recent remarks ordering law enforcers to pick up istambays—a Filipino corruption of the term “stand-bys”—from streets and sidewalks and throw them into jail cells is so puzzling. Who’s giving PDuts legal advice these days? And what brought on this tirade that has, it seems, been transformed into policy?

Most recently, a group of call-center agents told media of their experience when they were picked up by Makati City police for alleged “vagrancy” as they were standing in front of a residence waiting for a companion.


The group members said they were all dressed for a night out on the town since they were celebrating the homecoming of their friend from abroad who asked for them to wait for him while he showered and changed.

Brought to a police station, the young men were immediately put behind bars and told to wait for the arrival of the station commandant, even as they argued that they couldn’t be vagrants since they were obviously clad in “decent” outfits.

All’s well that ends well. The millennials were eventually freed, but their experience brings up the question: If well-dressed young people can be haled to jail despite their apparent financial capacity, what’s to stop Duterte goons from harassing and rounding up poor Pinoys for the crime of “standing without permission”?

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TAGS: anti-vagrancy law, At Large, Rina Jimenez-David, Rodrigo Duterte, standing without permission, vagrancy
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