Loitering minors to be frisked for drugs, not arrested, Duterte order says

Children who make a living rummaging through waste fear arrest, but say they have no choice but to go out and pick discarded recyclable materials

Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has clarified procedures involving plans by authorities to round up minors for loitering, saying the farthest extent law enforcers could reach in handling such cases was to frisk them.

The president made the comments during a speech in Cagayan de Oro during the mass oath-taking of newly-elected village officials.

He was responding to reports that minors who are being rounded up for loitering are being arrested.

But Duterte said this was not the case.

The president, a former prosecutor himself, said minors caught loitering would only be merely taken under the custody of the social welfare department for their protection.

He stressed that under the law, conducting searches on loiterers for possession of illegal items and substances and taking into custody of minors “are legal unless the Supreme Court declares otherwise.”

Earlier, television networks screened footage of minors (below 18-years-old) being rounded up from the streets and asked to empty their pockets for possible possession of banned items such as drugs.

But Duterte said the authorities are only performing the task within their mandate.

He added that invoking police power of the state to establish order and safety was not subject to legislation.

“We call them istambay [bystanders or loiterers]. That’s the word. That is my order. And you continue to frisk people who are in the streets and that is legal. Until such time, that is my order,” he told the newly elected village officials in Cagayan de Oro on Monday.

He said he just wanted to make the streets safer for everyone.

The president cited a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll, saying Filipino families have become victims of street crimes including theft and robbery, car theft, sexual harassment, and physical violence, among others.

“Fear of burglary, fear of unsafe streets and presence of drug addicts, these are the kind of people who are really involved in these,” he said.

Civil society groups had been accusing the President of carrying out a drive to suppress dissent by carrying out the anti-loitering campaign especially in depressed communities.

But Ronnie Masangkay, a 15-year-old plastic-waste picker in an urban poor community in Malabon said they had no choice but to go out of their house so they can pick discarded recyclable materials from the street which they sell to junk shop owners.

“The plastic waste that I pick up and sell helps in my schooling, if the police will go after us every time I go out, how can I help my family,?” he tells Gulf News.

Ronnie is the second child in a brood of eight. His father works as a driver for the city trash disposal contractor.

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