Issue of July 8, 2018
Mt. Province

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Cultural issues raised on move to prohibit betel nut chewing
by Jane B. Cadalig

The proposal to prohibit betel nut chewing and spitting in Baguio should be sensitive to the customs of the indigenous peoples (IPs) who will mostly be affected by the legislation, a city councilor said.

During the deliberation of the proposed ordinance that seeks to ban betel nut or moma chewing and spitting in public places, Councilor Art Allad-iw said the measure should be considerate of the IPs because betel nut chewing is part of their customary practices.

Betel nut chewing used to be exclusive to the Ifugaos but IPs in other Cordillera provinces have adopted the practice.

Allad-iw said chewing of moma per se should not be prohibited, but should merely be regulated.

“We cannot stop chewing of betel nut because it is part of the practices of the IPs. Let us be culturally sensitive. The best we could do is to regulate and not prohibit the chewing and spitting of moma,” he said.

As a regulatory measure, he said the ordinance must detail the things that must be observed or complied with so that the adverse effects of moma chewing and spitting will be addressed without curtailing an individual’s freedom to chew and freedom to spit.

Moma is a mixture of ingredients such as betel nut, a leaf called gawed, and lime. Others add tobacco leaves. When chewed, the mixture produces a red substance.

The proposed ordinance, authored by Vice Mayor Edison Bilog, aims to address health and environmental concerns brought about by the rampant spitting of moma in public places.

Bilog said the wanton spitting of moma has caused unsightly red stains on roads, public walls, and sidewalks. He said even private vehicles are not spared from moma stains.

The proposed ordinance prohibits the sale of moma ingredients to minors. It also encourages vendors to inform their adult clients about the intention of the ordinance.

Violators will be fined P1,000 on first offense; P2,000 on second offense; and P3,000 on third and succeeding offenses, while vendors found selling betel nut to minors will be fined P3,000 on first offense and cancellation of business permits on succeeding offenses.

Councilor Benny Bomogao said the ordinance is a welcome legislation because it will help address the unsightly red stains from moma spit, which has become common in many parts of the city, especially in jeepney terminals.

He added there should be a provision in the ordinance that would introduce ways on how the city government could help those who want to stop chewing moma.

Health authorities have been warning against betel nut chewing, citing possible diseases that might be developed from the habit, such as oral and throat cancer.

The City Health Services Office (CHSO), whose recommendation was earlier sought to help guide the legislators in the passage of the proposed ordinance, said the stand of the office is prohibition of the sale of betel nut and ban on chewing because of its adverse effects on the health of those chewing the mixture and its consequences on the city’s sanitation.

“Our stand is total prohibition because betel nut chewing is addicting. Aside from teeth discoloration, it may cause lesions in the mouth that could lead to oral cancer and urinary bladder cancer,” CHSO Head Rowena Galpo said.

The CHSO, however, said if only to balance the regulatory mandate of the city council and the cultural practices of the IPs, there is a need to consult the IPs to get their sentiments.

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