Baguio City mulls more teeth vs 'momma' chewers.
The Baguio City Council has already approved on first reading a proposal to ban chewing betel nut and spitting the 'momma' juice in public.
Since time immemorial, momma chewing has been a favorite pastime and and habit of Ifugaos.
Chewing momma includes ingredients such as betel nut, betel leaf or areca, a white powder made by burning edible shells. Some add dried tobacco leaves.
The chewing of momma produces a red substance that causes stains.
Under the ordinance authored by Vice Mayor Edgardo Bilog, the City Health Services office will lead the implementation of the ban. Joining it are the City Market Division of the City Treasurer's Office for the public market; the Baguio City Police office and the Public Order and Safety Division to ensure the ban is enforced
Officials in the city's 128 barangays shall guarantee the implementation the ordinance.
Selling betel nut to adults will not be banned as city officials understand vendors need to earn a living. They will be required, however, to inform customers of the ban.
To have teeth, a fine of P1,000 will be imposed for first-time offenders, P2,000 for the second and P3,000 for the third and succeeding offenses.
Under the same proposed ordinance, vendors found to have sold betel nut to a minor shall be fined P3,000 for the first offense and will lose their business permit for a repeat offense.
Local government offices will also launch an information and education campaign about the ordinance and on the health risks of chewing of betel nut such as oral cancer, throat cancer and cardiovascular arrhythmia.
Baguio City, through Ordinance No. 54, has banned spitting in public since 1988. An amendment to the ordinance passed in 2011 also required betel nut chewers to spit in containers.
Vice Mayor Bilog claimed that despite the ordinances, stains from betel liquid or momma are evident in public places. Containers of momma also litter parks and public utility vehicle terminals.
Health authorities said chewing betel nut has no beneficial health effects and, according to a 2012 World Health Organization report, "a major effort needs to be made to provide decision-makers with evidence of the serious harm caused by betel nut chewing, with or without tobacco"
Better late than never
In recent years, more towns in Ifugao and elsewhere in the highland region have banned the "freedom of spit"
Lagawe and Kiangan were the first to ban spitting momma in public, and Lamut town enacted its own ban in 2011.
Acknowledging that thousands of Ifugaos are addicted to momma chewing, Lamut town said in its ordinance that "regulation is imperative since the spittle spewing from the mouth of betel nut chewers brings out a red liquid that pollutes, makes ugly and unsanitary the area and environment where it is wantonly disposed."
The ban "protect(s) the health and general welfare of its constituents and the people visiting the community by providing a clean, sanitary and healthful environment."
The town put up warning signs and spitting bins in public places to accomodate momma chewers. It sent the signal that Lamut town officials, many of whom are momma chewers themselves, care for their citizens.
In 1998, the Ifugao Sangguniang Panlalawigan prohibited and penalized spitting momma in public.
A year after the 'freedom of spit' was curtailed in Lagawe in 2007, the same happed in Bontoc, Mountain Province's capital town, and in nearby Sabangan town.
In Sabangan, it also illegal 'to spill momma or unsanitary disposing of momma material or spitting receptacle in any place that causes an unsanitary sight.'
The local Sabangan law also prohibits any establishment, residence or place having a trash receptacle or its premises with traces or indication of momma materials.
An innovation, Sabangan residents can invoke a "citizen's arrest" and apprehend violators and or cause to demand and collect from violators an amount not exceeding P500 for the cost of cleaning the momma stains.
Violators in Sabangan are fined between P250 and P750 or jailed for from two to seven days depending on how many times they've been caught spitting in public.
Minors who spit momma are also penalized with supervised community service for the first offense.