PHILIPPINES: Anti-Vagrancy Law

(Women's Feature Service/January 20, 2006)

DAVAO CITY -- On the night of November 14, 2003, Mary
Salsaba was with her friend Norma waiting for a
jeepney ride along downtown San Pedro Street here when
suddenly a police car screeched to a stop. To their
surprise, a policeman approached them and, without
word, forcibly hauled them off to the car and brought
them to jail.

The police arresting Salsaba later explained in an
affidavit that they were conducting routine
surveillance when they spotted Salsaba and her
companion. Because they were observed “as loitering or
wandering around the said street corner without any
lawful purpose despite their physical capacity to
work”, Plaza arrested them on the ground of
“vagrancy,” a crime publishable under Art. 202 of the
Revised Penal Code.

Recently, the case of People v. Salsaba has gained
prominence as a test case after women’s groups
questioned the constitutionality of Article 202. The
case is now pending before the Supreme Court after the
Regional Trial Court in Davao City declared the
anti-vagrancy provision as unconstitutional.

Article 202 which is entitled “vagrants and
prostitutes” states that a vagrant is “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; and any
person found loitering about public or semi-public
buildings or places or trampling or wandering about
the country or the streets without visible means of

Prostitutes, on the other hand, are defined by Article
202 as “women who, for money or profit, habitually
indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct.”

These definitions, according to criminal law experts,
is so vague and so broad that these opened the
floodgate to abuse and various interpretations. In the
US, vagrancy laws which are called the “garbage pail
of criminal laws” have targeted not only plain
loiterers and wanderers but also hippies and students.

In the Philippines, women’s groups assail the
provision for being particularly discriminatory
against prostituted women and children who are
imprisoned by the police on grounds of simply “having
no apparent means of subsistence and are found
loitering and wandering in the streets.” In Southern
Mindanao alone, more than 300 cases were filed against
persons considered as vagrants, mostly women and
children from January to June last year.

Lawyer Evalyn Ursua, Salsaba’s counsel and director of
the Women’s Legal Bureau, asserted that the law runs
counter to constitutionally-protected individual
rights, particularly the right to liberty and the
right to free expression. Salsaba, for example,
happened to be lingering in the city streets just
before midnight, for which reason she was sent to
prison for the crime of “vagrancy”.

“Loitering or wandering in public places is an
exercise of one’s freedom of expression. And no person
shall be deprived of such rights freedoms without due
process of law,” Ursua said.

Ursua’s argument was later upheld by the Regional
Trial Court in Davao City which found the provision
also a violation of the “equal protection clause”
guaranteed under the Bill of Rights. The RTC decision
partly states that:

"Loitering about and wandering have become national
pastimes, particularly in these times of recession
where there are many who are without visible means of
support, not by reason of choice but by force of
circumstance as borne out by the high unemployment
rate in the entire country...To authorize law
enforcement authorities to arrest someone for no other
reason than the fact that she cannot find gainful
employment would indeed be adding insult to injury."

Aside from vagrancy charges that could be filed
against those found loitering and wandering without
means of support in this city, children below 15 years
old could also be imprisoned for violating a city
ordinance which imposes a curfew on minors. They are
prohibited from loitering in public places here from
10 pm to 4 am of the following day, unless they are in
the company of their parents or guardians.

“Thus, children find themselves locked up at congested
Philippine National Police (PNP) stations until social
workers from CSSDO conduct their counselling sessions
the next day,” writes Mae Templa in her study entitled
“Understanding Children in Conflict with the Law in
Davao City.”

Legal Assistance for Women
Lawyer Romeo Cabarde, Ursua’s co-counsel, said Article
202 often victimizes the poor thus creating a
situation “where you may be penalized for being
jobless and loitering in the city streets,” he said,
citing Salsaba’s case who is jobless and who happens
to live in a known urban poor area in Davao City.
Cabarde is also the director of the Davao-based Luna
Legal Assistance Center for Women and Children which
so far handles at least four cases of vagrancy,
including the Salsaba case.

Luna, which is a Cebuano term for “space” or “place”,
was formed last year to offer a “refuge or sanctuary
by providing legal assistance to women and children
victims of abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation and
discrimination.” The center’s formation was prompted
by requests from women’s groups such as the Bathaluman
Crisis Center and Talikala which are swamped by
clients in need of legal assistance. Majority of these
clients, such as Salsaba, could not afford to hire the
services of a lawyer.

Cabarde also noted the following constraints in
rendering legal assistance: machismo in the judiciary,
dilatory court processes, economic dependence of women
and the welfare of children, lack of shelter for
abused children and security of clients. “The
availability and willingness of volunteer lawyers is
also seen as a problem,” he added, as most of them are
also active legal practitioners.

Today, Luna handles more than 30 cases from violations
of the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Law
(RA 9262), rape and vagrancy. Cabarde however stressed
that Luna encourages “client participation instead of

Article 15 of the Convention of the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDA) states
that “parties shall accord to women equality with men
before the law.” Unless women are ensured of access to
legal assistance, Article 15 is rendered meaningless.

The Philippine government is signatory to CEDAW, the
most comprehensive treaty on women’s rights. CEDAW
came into force in 1981 signed by the Philippines in
the same year. It is the second most widely ratified
international human rights treaty, ratified or acceded
to by 180 governments or state parties. CEDAW is the
only human rights treaty to affirm the reproductive
rights of women.

Implementation of the Convention is monitored by the
CEDAW committee of 23 experts, now chaired by a
Filipino, former Ambassador Rosario Manalo. They
review each country’s compliance every 4 years.

I stumbled upon this post when I was in Bataan. I was browsing through pages of fellow members of Rainbow Bloggers Philippines, when I read from somewhere about the Anti-Vagrancy Law. Intrigued, I searched more about it and found the article above.

I do think that the Anti-Vagrancy Law lacks the proper identification procedure in which one can say that someone is considered "as loitering or wandering around the street corner without any lawful purpose despite their physical capacity to work". The arrest was done at night so I don't see why the policeman didn't have the brains to think that the persons he arrested were just going home. This is I think a case of abuse of power.

Hindi ba translation ng "loitering and wandering around the street corner" ay tumambay sa kanto? if so, dapat buong street ng Pitong Gatang, arestuhin nila. I agree that the law is unconstitutional because it contradicts with the people's freedom to move about.

On another note, if such law exists, why are there so many beggars in Manila? They are the ones that should be considered vagrants. I think that some of them are just bone idle. I see so many beggars who have the capacity to work but does the opposite. That's why I don't give alms. They are vagrants.