WTF? What’s behind Baguio City’s anti-profanity ordinance

November 6, 2018 - 1:55 PM
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Officials admit migration has caused Baguio's population to grow but said it is working to address the city's growing needs. (Philstar.com/Artemio Dumlao)

Baguio City residents are no longer allowed to utter profanities after the local government passed an ordinance banning swearing and cussing in selected establishments and institutions.

Mayor Mauricio Domogan has ratified Ordinance 118, Series of 2018 which prohibits “cursing, cussing, expressing insults or the use foul language to express anger or any other extreme emotion in establishments frequented by students, from pre-school to college level.

The establishments expected to fall under the coverage of the ordinance include all schools, computer shops and arcades. Business establishments covered by the ordinance are required to post signages reminding patrons of the city’s new policy.

Expulsion from school, reportedly one of the penalties under the ordinance for students who will violate the ordinance, will be the prerogative of the school administration.

Though ratified only recently, the ordinance was first proposed in January 2017 by Councilor Lilia Fariñas. The proposal defined profanity as “blasphemous or obscene language, regular or irreverent speech or action, expletives, oath, swearing, swearword, coarse, coarseword, cussing, profane, or obscene expressions, usually of surprise or anger.”

Some have questioned whether Baguio can still be a place where they can thrive with the new policy in the City of Pines.

Some have joked that President Rodrigo Duterte, who is known for using expletives and strong language in some of his speeches, may not be allowed to enter his country’s summer capital thanks to the new ordinance.

Profanity in the law

While there is no national law prohibiting the use of profanity in public, some have argued throwing swear words at other people constituted the offense of grave oral defamation. In the case of People v. Reyes, the Supreme Court ruled that some commonly-used curse words were a “common enough utterance” that expresses anger or displeasure, and not really to slander.

Hurling profanities, however, is one of the acts constituting bullying as defined in the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013.

Certain parts of the United States have passed laws prohibiting the use of profanity in public places including North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

A legal battle to strike down the law banning profanity in South Carolina has erupted over the years. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 voted to uphold the state’s law.

But can swearing be avoided? 

While Baguio’s ordinance prohibits swearing that results from negative emotions, recent studies show that swearing has benefits when it results from actual physical pain.

A recent study by psychologist Richard Stephens with his students found that swearing out loud may help those with a lower pain threshold withstand physical pain.

Psychologist Timothy Jay, who has studied humans’ use of profanity, has also argued that the practice is not just a sign of aggression and is a built-in human impulse.

“It allows us to vent or express anger, joy, surprise, happiness. It’s like the horn on your car, you can do a lot of things with that, it’s built into you,” he said.