Press Release
March 8, 2011

Senate approves on second reading a bill decriminalizing vagrancy

The Senate approved on second reading Monday a bill seeking to decriminalize vagrancy which lawmakers said was being abused by policemen to justify arbitrary arrests.

Senator Chiz Escudero, chairman of the committee on justice and human rights and principal author of the bill, said there was a need to repeal the law because it "has become a common excuse for law enforcers to detain, arrest or bring to the police station any person they don't have sufficient reasons to arrest or those with no specific crime to charge with."

In his sponsorship speech, Escudero said Senate Bill 2726 was an open-shut measure. "It only seeks to repeal the provisions of Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code pertaining to the crime of vagrancy," he added.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senators Loren Legada, Miguel Zubiri and Miriam Defensor-Santiago co-sponsored the bill. All senators present Monday voted in favor of the bill.

Escudero said the Revised Penal Code defined a vagrant as any person who has 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 found loitering in public or semi-public buildings or places or tramping or wandering in the country or the streets without visible means of support.

The bill, he noted, removes the penalties for vagrants but stressed that prostitution remains a crime.

Escudero explained the Revised Penal Code, which was crafted in 1932, primarily aimed to keep workers inside the work place during the industrial revolution in other countries. However, he said, "conditions" had changed and the law of vagrancy had become outmoded.

The Senate adopted a similar measure during the last Congress in 2008. Senate Bill 1965, also authored by Escudero, was approved on third and final reading but failed to pass into law after it hit a setback in the House of Representatives.

"The (vagrancy law) is an anti-poor law because kapag mahirap ka, wala ka ginagawa, nagiging rason ito para huliin ng pulis," he said. He cited the recent case of a Manila policeman who arrested a female vendor on vagrancy charges and later raped her at the police station. The vendor later filed rape charges against the policeman. Should vagrancy be decriminalized, Escudero said the Philippine National Police (PNP) would be able to pay more attention to graver offenses and improve its role in the administration of justice. "This measure also seeks to give a more humane countenance on our justice system which prioritizes the rehabilitation of the offender and acknowledges the value of every human life," he explained. Escudero explained that "vagrancy inflicts no harm to society, but if at all, very minimal compared to those grave offenses which cause damage to person, community, and property. This should be addressed with treatment rather than with punishment."

The bill, he said, provides equal protection to women, children and men as authorities cannot anymore recklessly and conveniently use vagrancy in arbitrary arrests. "We see it all the time in the news, when authorities round up people and no definite charges can be made, vagrancy comes in handy. Cases of this nature have already piled up in our justice system," he further said.

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