In what is believed to be the first-ever Philippine law prohibiting cussing in public, the City of Baguio has promulgated an ordinance that would make it illegal to utter profanities — not even as a manifestation of anger, or as a result of being surprised — in local schools as well as in business establishments that cater to children and teens.
Ordinance 118, Series of 2018, authored by City Councilor Lilia Fariñas was recently signed by Mayor Mauricio Domogan.
Among other things, the new law calls on local educational institutions to incorporate in their bylaws and policies an anti-profanity component and suggests punitive measures against violators, including possible suspension from school. It also requires owners of local businesses catering to the youth — including computer shops and arcades — to put up signage that would remind customers of the anti-profanity ordinance.
Almost immediately, Baguio City residents as well as national officials criticized the ordinance on the grounds that it violates the Constitutional guarantee of free speech.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, a lawyer, suggested that the ordinance may not pass a Constitutional test if challenged in court. (Everyone knows of course that his boss, President Rodrigo Duterte, is famous for his frequent cussing in public.)
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also commented that the ordinance violates people’s freedom of speech. During the regular “Kapihan Sa Senado” forum, he said: “Because under the Constitution, we have the constitutional right to freedom of speech… It may be immoral to curse or to cuss, but it’s the right of every Filipino person to do so if they want to,” he said.
For his part, Benedix Esguerra Ramos, a Hospitality and Tourism Management student at Baguio’s University of the Cordilleras, understands the ordinance’s intent of restoring the “morals of the Filipino youth,” but also believes that proper education is a better way to do it. In this regard, he adds that such education “does not necessarily come from schools, but from the family.”
While admitting that he sometimes uses profane language, Ramos says he is lucky to have grown up in a favorable environment where there were restrictions on profanity.
Apart from the issues of free speech and morality, legal analysts as well as ordinary citizens have pointed to other problems with the new law.
Netizens have asked whether the ordinance’s directives to schools would constitute an infringement on Academic Freedom, and whether the City Government has the authority to dictate policies especially among privately owned institutions. (Ironically, many of the comments posted online by netizens came with profane language.)
Others are simply laughing off the provisions in the ordinance concerning business establishments. Other than putting up anti-profanity signage, they say businesses have no way of monitoring compliance and that nothing in the ordinance mentions any penalties for violators. The only penalty provided in the law is the “apprehension” of business owners for failing to put up the required signage. It may be grounds for denial of the renewal of their business permits.
In addition to schools and computer businesses, the ordinance also “enjoins” owners of cafés, bars and restaurants to observe the anti-profanity ordinance, although for now, there are no penal sanctions for such establishments.
Normalyn Ambojnon, a native of Ifugao, helps manage a popular local bar in the city that is frequented by tourists and students. She says she doesn’t believe the ordinance will have any effect on what it is trying to achieve. “We can put up ‘No Cussing’ signs but it is not our place to admonish any bar customer to refrain from uttering profanities. She also wondered if the ordinance will apply to tourists and city visitors.
Like any other law, the Baguio Anti-Profanity Ordinance can be subject to legal challenge in court, but so far no individual or group has come forward to sue the City Government. So, in the meantime, the ordinance is in place and enforceable.
And if you’re visiting Baguio City soon, you’d better brush up on alternative cuss phrases to avoid getting yourself in trouble.
How about “Anak ng Tokwa” (Son-of-a-Tofu), or “Anak ng Pato” (Son-of-a-Duck)?
Rene Astudillo is a writer, book author and blogger and has recently retired from more than two decades of nonprofit community work in the Bay Area. He spends his time between California and the Philippines.