[EDITORIAL] #Animated: Getting rid of the tambays

Imagine coming home to an immaculate neighborhood after a hard day’s work. The garrulous men who’d heckle you no end are gone. The shirtless, silent drunk who stank has disappeared. You could sleep tight tonight – and forever – knowing there wouldn’t be yet another painful karaoke session by the road from sunset till dawn.

And, yes, you could add color and texture to that imagination, because that’s the only place where they belong: in the realm of your imagination.

Just because President Duterte said so doesn’t mean Metro Manila will soon be rid of what you call the dregs of humanity, the scum of the earth, the jobless, good-for-nothing men who squat and spit on the streets during the day and batter their women at night.

That’s like living in dreamland, which Metro Manila is not, as it bursts with 13 million people sauntering in gated subdivisions and choking in clogged waterways. Plus the tambays, Filipinos who stand idle, a term that finds its roots in the phrase, "stand by".

The metro’s tambay is a menace to peace, said the President, in justifying his order to the police to arrest men who loiter drunk and convert the streets into their entertainment parks.

Following his directive, the Philippine National Police has so far brought to precincts more than 3,000 tambays, including the alleged tambay Genesis Argoncillo, who was unlucky enough to have been spotted by the police, brought to the precinct and mauled to death by the other detained men who probably didn’t like his tambay look, too, or so said police witnesses.

Among the police catch were minors who were gallivanting way past the local curfew in their village, the men who drank and smoked in the streets, and those accosted for “public nudity”. This, on top of illegal vendors who mushroom in and out, depending on the season, and students who enter computer shops late in the evening.

What responsible parent or gainfully employed Filipino would not welcome this? 

To go home to a safe and quiet neighborhood is a right as basic as commuting in trains that work or vehicles that could move beyond traffic – rights that we all know have become a luxury.

Every town or city and its villages are obliged to keep their streets clean, calm and safe. Local ordinances exist for this reason. 

What has made this task complex and often unrealistic is not just the lack of jobs or the impermanence of work, but the presence of more than half a million informal settler families in the whole country, most of whom live in Quezon City, Rizal, and, yes, you guessed it, Davao City.

Here lies our problem: he’s no longer mayor. 

There is logic to the sheer power and vast resources that a Philippine president enjoys. Along such privilege comes a mandate to think big and act big. 

We have no quarrel with any public official’s resolve to make the tambay behave; we have a quarrel with a president who thinks that’s his job to do so. 

We have no quarrel with any effort to ensure peace in the neighborhood; we have a quarrel with the inhuman and impulsive ways it is done – as if the tambay would rather stay in the streets than sit in his living room, if he had a living room to begin with.

A president who takes the long view and accepts the complexities and the dying state of Metro Manila will choose to address the problem comprehensively and not wipe it off like some dust. Because like dust, the tambay will appear again, and again, long after Duterte finishes his term in 2022.

We could cite a litany of steps, long discussed and crafted by previous administrations, about how best to address the conditions that give rise to the tambay, but that is not our point here.

The President has bigger problems on his big plate, such as the unwanted tambays in the West Philippine Sea.

Unless he is using this to further harden the climate of fear that pervades in the capital, or wants to distract us from the more urgent concerns of the day, Duterte should just leave this job to the mayors.

Because he's no longer one. – Rappler.com