From ‘tambay’ to dead
Genesis “Tisoy” Argoncillo was watching video clips on his cell phone in front of a sari-sari store a few steps away from his home in Sitio Cabuyao, Barangay Sauyo in Novaliches, when the police came and singled him out. “O eto nakahubad … itabi ang bote,” a witness recalled the police saying.
The shirtless Argoncillo, together with a neighbor, was ordered to hold empty beer bottles as “evidence” while their photo was taken. Argoncillo was then brought to the barangay hall where he was listed as “apprehended and rescued,” and later made to undergo a medical examination and inquest proceeding. Afterwards, he was detained at Station 4 of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD), along with six others, for allegedly causing “alarm and scandal.” A spot report said the men were shouting at “the top of their voice” and disturbing “the peace and serenity of the night.”
Three days later, Argoncillo was dead. He was 25.
Police initially said Argoncillo expired from shortness of breath due to congestion inside the jail cell. But an autopsy report showed he suffered injuries on the neck, head, chest and upper extremities. Pictures shared by his family on social media also showed bruises on his neck, chest and arms.
Argoncillo’s sister, Marilou, who visited him every day while he was detained, recalled how her brother appeared to be getting weaker by the day. He told her he was being mauled by other detainees. QCPD officials would later say Argoncillo died after being beaten by fellow inmates for being “unruly.” A witness said Argoncillo was “running around” inside the cell—a room that could only accommodate 40, but was holding 128 inmates at the time.
Richard Bautista and Justine Mercado, alleged members of Sputnik gang, have been charged with homicide for Argoncillo’s death, while the station commander, the duty jailer, the staff duty officer, the desk officer, and the chief patrol supervisor have been dismissed.
Barangay security officer Emmanuel Jalandoni said Argoncillo, who had no previous barangay record, should have been sent home that same night. That he was instead thrown in jail and later ended up dead while in custody is something the police should be prosecuted for to the hilt—whether as a result of direct abuse on their part, or negligence in protecting a citizen whose detention was legally tenuous in the first place.
Argoncillo’s ordeal and death stand as the most harrowing outcome so far of Mr. Duterte’s precipitate order to the police two weeks ago to round up alleged “tambay” (loiterers) like him. As mayor of Davao City, he had burnished his legend as an iron-fisted leader by ridding the streets of what he deemed to be bums and eyesores. Last June 13, Mr. Duterte directed newly promoted policemen to do the same and shoo the “tambay” away, or otherwise book them. “Pag hindi kayo umuwi, ihatid ko kayo sa opisina ni ano…” he threatened.
The police took to the job with a relish. Head counts apparently look good in police reports, so cops began indiscriminately rounding up anyone who seemed purposelessly hanging around, or was shirtless, or just appeared to have no business where he was. Over 8,000 were arrested within days of the President’s directive—and one man, “Tisoy” Argoncillo, now appears to have died because of it. Days later, after intense public criticism, Mr. Duterte backtracked and said he didn’t order any such arrests, and even chided the police as “gago” (stupid) for their heavy-handed actions.
Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde called Argoncillo’s death “tragic and unfortunate.” But, despite the uproar and the President’s own shifting words on the rationale and methods of the “anti-tambay” campaign, the country’s top cop said the crackdown will continue. That could only mean one thing: Argoncillo will not be the last Filipino to suffer and die from this latest assault on the poor.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.