Mar 28, 2019

A slow news day has forced Caloocan Mayor Oscar Malapitan to ask councilors to review a 2007 ordinance supposedly barring residents from leaving their homes in skimpy shorts after a television station highlighted this prohibited item of clothing in a report.

Malapitan’s troubles began after a GMA-7 news reporter featured the 11-year-old Ordinance 439 that “seeks to prescribe appropriate and acceptable manners of wearing clothes in public places in the city such as but not limited to sidewalks, roads, markets, plazas, parks and other recreational places.”

Aiming to “make Caloocan” a “City of Good Conduct,” the ordinance stressed “there are impelling reasons to adopt a dress code to formally or socially impose standards of dress.”

It requires “all persons” to be “properly and decently attired while moving about in public places” except those “undergoing sports activities” who are allowed to wear shorts and sleeveless jerseys exposing the arms while engaged.

Section 1 is strict about anyone going “topless” around the city while Section 2 zeroes in on “vendors in government- and privately-owned markets” as well as “drivers and passengers of public utility vehicles and pedicabs” who can only go about in t-shirts and tops with sleeves; pants and skirts; and footwear that include shoes, sandals and step-ins.

Vendors in the wet section of a market and those serving food in carinderias are also required to wear aprons.

Photo courtesy of Inquirer

“Topless,” “half-naked,” and “short shorts”

Section 4 contains a proviso that lists “topless” and “half-naked” among the states of undress that vendors are barred from appearing in while at work. Section 5 meanwhile, defines “short shorts,” an item of clothing that vendors are not supposed to be seen in, as “trousers covering less than one-fourth of the lower torso and legs.”

The ordinance provides for penalties, including a fine of P1,000 and two days imprisonment for repeat offenders. Barangay officials are tasked to implement the ordinance.

It must be noted that in 2007, then Mayor Recom Echiverri was the local executive who signed the draft local edict.  The GMA-7 report said the nine councilors who endorsed the ordinance are no longer incumbents.

Current Mayor Malapitan, now on his second term as the city’s top executive, suddenly found himself on the defensive after a social media backlash that followed the television news story. The report hinted that Caloocan officials apparently remain clueless about the “particulars” of the ordinance given the apparent lack of implementing rules and regulations that barangay officials would observe while monitoring compliance.

Caloocan City Police Chief Senior Supt. Restituto Arcangel maintained the short shorts ban is applicable only to vendors, telling the Inquirer “it is wrong to interpret” that this particular provision “applies to the general public.”

He noted that the city police are actually stricter about residents walking around topless, more than those in short shorts.

The police officer presented data from the Northern Police District showing 289 persons were reprimanded for leaving their homes without shirts on.

A quick perusal of the ordinance shows nowhere does it indicate penalties for residents wearing short shorts. The television report however, interviewed residents for their reactions to the short shorts prohibition.


Gabriela party-list Rep. Emi de Jesus was quoted in the television report saying the ordinance encouraged victim-blaming in case women wearing short shorts are sexually harassed.

De Jesus reportedly added it would be better if Caloocan councilors crafted a “preventive” measure such as the anti-catcalling ordinance now in effect in Quezon City.

The congresswoman also urged local officials to focus on public education instead of punitive action.

The backlash has now pushed Malapitan to call for a review of the ordinance after noting netizens’ objections that it violated freedom of expression.

The mayor said he prefers that the ordinance “be repealed as I stand for the right to freedom (of expression).”

Malapitan noted however, that the measure does not prohibit residents from donning short shorts in public places although it requires all to appear “decently attired” when conducting business in government offices in the city.

To further appease irate netizens, Malapitan stressed: “I believe that all women should be respected no matter what they wear.” He also encouraged women who experience sexual harassment to “stand up for themselves and report to the police.”

There are interesting things we note about this incident.

Yes, it is true that the short shorts restriction is limited to the city’s market vendors but we note that Section 4 includes passengers of PUVs and pedicabs among those “who must be attired” in “any top apparel with sleeves” and “pants or skirt.”

Does this not mean anyone riding a public vehicle still cannot wear short shorts? Authorities are not clear about this.

To further appease irate netizens, Malapitan stressed: “I believe that all women should be respected no matter what they wear.”

Clothes reflect a city’s economy

Doesn’t the ordinance alienate more than half of the city’s residents who go about their business wearing casual clothes, including shorts that “cover less than one-fourth of the lower torso and legs?” Consider the country’s climate, especially during the summer.

Eleven years after the ordinance’s approval makes it ridiculous to go finger-pointing and chasing after those responsible for it. We agree with Malapitan’s suggestion for its repeal.

It might also do the mayor some good to admit he governs a city whose majority are not able to afford decent pants.

It is bizarre and unrealistic for a city government whose residents conduct business in City Hall on any given day in sleeveless blouses, basketball shorts and worn slippers (all prohibited as they do not fall under “decent attire”) to dictate what people should wear.

More than freedom of expression, clothes in Caloocan are a matter of economics. The television reporter was correct in getting reactions of men/women-on-the-street who may not be covered by the restrictions on vendors. After all, don’t most of them ride public transport that are also covered by the ordinance’s restrictions?

The city councilors who drafted Ordinance 439 may have done so in good faith.  But they apparently failed to fine tune the measure. Or failed to observe the real picture just outside City Hall.

Before a draft measure becomes an ordinance, the city council is required to hold public hearings so local legislators can collect as much input from stakeholders as possible.

Did they bother to invite the vendors and residents whose clothing choices would be curbed before enacting the ordinance in 2007?

Records of the city council may be difficult to obtain at this point and Malapitan’s request that the council repeal the ordinance may be impossible given that the campaign season for local elections, including that in Caloocan, starts Saturday, Mar. 29.

Which means Malapitan is now prepping for his third term.  He might as well include the repeal in his campaign agenda.

Still, this incident should teach local officials—whether mayor-, councilor- or barangay-wannabe—to be vigilant about the laws they enact, to be critical of what may become a burden to citizens, and not to pass a law simply because it aims to please.

A leader’s vision actually begins when he is not yet one. In fact, this is how he shows he can lead, when he can foresee the right path, the right laws and probably the right clothes, even before he is in power.

Bottom line is, did the decade-old ordinance contribute to good governance? Did the city council’s approval of clothing restrictions make people’s lives better? Or did the passage of time highlight its irrelevance and ridiculousness? We admit that for all it is worth, it made an amusing human-interest story.


Get more stories like this by subscribing to our weekly newsletter here.

Read more:

A Filipino woman is raped every 72 minutes

What women and children wore when they were raped or sexually assaulted

Read more by Cathy Cañares Yamsuan:

The Manila City Library is proof that public spaces aren’t gov’t priority

Do the police even know what “tambay” really means?

TAGS: anti-catcalling caloocan city caloocan short shorts ban catcalling feminism laws in the philippines short shorts ban victim-blaming