Shirtless in the Philippines?

The Philippines is a tropical country. As expected, summertime is very hot and it can sometimes extend to the rainy season when it becomes very humid. Because of our weather, it cannot be helped a lot of men in the streets go shirtless. While it may be understandable given the circumstances, it is seen by many as socially inappropriate.

As a result, several major cities in the Philippines have passed local ordinances that forbid people to be shirtless in public. While this is very obvious for women, this is also aimed at men who tend to be shirtless out in the streets, even those engaged in work like construction workers, market vendors and auto mechanics who tend to take their shirts off when it becomes too hot or uncomfortable.

During the administration of Bayani Fernando, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority used to implement a Metro-wide ban on being shirtless. Fernando modeled it after the law implemented in Marikina where he once served as its Mayor. Cities and municipalities in Metro Manila have also implemented their own ordinances as well.

The following are some of the city ordinances that forbids being shirtless in public places:

Marikina City – Ordinance 72 Series 2005.

Manila – Sec. 819 or the Anti Half-Naked Ordinance.

San Juan – City Ordinance No. 8 Series of 2013.

Pasay City Ordinance #3385 or Anti Half-Naked Law

These laws do not only prohibit people to be half-naked or topless in public places, In the case of Marikina, they also require everyone to be adequately dressed in said places. This means for men to wear at least a t-shirt and walking shorts; they are not allowed to be dressed in house or “pambahay” attire when in public places such as schools, churches and public markets. For women, they must not to be scantily dressed lest they be mistaken for a prostitute.

The common rationale for passing the ordinances is that it violates modesty and decency. Another is for reasons of public safety. All cities and municipalities want to project an image of modernity and development. They want public places to be showcases of the city and having shirtless people in the streets tend to ruin that image. In addition, wearing shirts gives an image of cleanliness that also goes with proper grooming and personal hygiene.

Furthermore, shirtless men give the impression they are thugs or toughies (“siga” in local parlance), most especially if they have tattoos and are loitering in the streets or drinking. Some tattoos give the impression a person is either a hoodlum or ex-convict. Looking at a bigger picture, this may affect businesses and scare off potential investors because of the impression the cities are unsafe or crime-prone. There have been numerous incidents of people harassed by these men reported in local news. The punishments vary depending on the municipality and the degree of the offense and may range from fines to community service.

In Las Pinas, recently apprehended offenders were made to do push-ups

In rare cases, apprehending shirtless men would validate the rationale of being thugs and reveal prior offense or crimes. In 2011, a man was arrested in Manila for violating Sec. 819 of the city’s ordinance for being shirtless. It was later revealed he was wanted for sexual offenses as well.

Is it Fair or Legal?

Although the rationale is given, there are some who find these ordinances unfair or even unjust. The most common reason given is the weather or their shirt became wet whether from perspiration or rain and they had to take it off lest they catch a cold. In the case of market vendors, they reasoned that their usual routine of carrying baskets of produce or cutting up meat which can dirty their shirts. Being shirtless makes it easier for them to wash up every time rather than carrying spare sets of shirts with them. Apparently, they also maintain just because they are shirtless, not all of them look like hoodlums. With regards to that, anyone who feels they were wrongly arrested for these reasons may seek legal remedies.

Iloilo Market Vendors protest shirtless ordinance

Another issue is how about those caught half-naked inside vehicles. While it is obvious it is an absolute no-no for couples to make out inside vehicles, the issue concerns those who may be caught shirtless while driving a motor vehicle whether it is a car or a truck. This situation is subject to debate as both sides of the argument will contest if a motor vehicle is considered private space though it is in public roads.

As a way of conclusion, both sides of the argument have their merits. Those against these laws cite impracticality as their main reason. However, the local government units appears to be greater because they are more forward-looking and understand the need to project an image of decency in their respective locales, plus the need to put their best foot forward to welcome visitors and show them they can feel safe and comfortable in their municipalities.

Aaron Ronquillo

Quizzer, Practical Shooter, Martial Artist, Movie Buff, Avid Reader, Amateur Foodie and Photographer, Cat Lover; Someone with a wanderlust; got a keen eye for detail, trivia; enthusiastic but cautious; patient, calculating