This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
In a small town in the Philippines, some three hours north of the capital of Manila, gossiping is being made into a punishable offence. Residents of at least seven different neighbourhoods in Binalonan, Pangasinan province, face the threat of being hit with fines and penalties if they’re caught spreading rumours in public, The Wall Street Journal reports. In Moreno, the first neighbourhood to have rolled out the laws in 2017, first offenders are fined 500 pesos and forced to spend an afternoon collecting rubbish as punishment for their crime.
“We haven’t had to punish anyone for a second offence,” said local council leader Jovelyn Manaois. “No one wants to be seen as a gossipmonger.”
The crackdown is part of an attempt by Binalonan mayor Ramon Guico III to increase productivity and improve quality of life in the area. Ramon has suggested that the worst time for gossip—or “chismis” as Filipinos call it—is in summer, when the oppressive heat forces locals to gather in the shade and discuss the various goings on around the town: who’s cheating on who, mainly, or which member of the local community is racking up debt. “It’s such a waste of time,” he said. “You’d think people would have something better to do.”
While the prospect of censoring and punishing citizens for something as trivial as streetside gossip might seem like a somewhat draconian move, local leaders insist that the laws don’t infringe on free speech. Instead, they claim the legislation aims to protect members of the community from slander, and to clear up any issues between those involved in malicious rumour-mongering.
“Usually gossip cases are about some conflict over money or property,” said Prudencio Esquillo, the council chief in Binalonan’s San Felipe Sur neighborhood. “If we can bring the two sides together and settle it before it goes to the police or the courts, then that’s good. We don’t want to get a reputation for being a place with a lot of gossips.”
The laws are being rolled out in the lead-up to local elections, which will see many of the town’s community leaders running for office next month. Ramon, for his part, has also imposed a ban on karaoke sessions after 10pm as part of his bid to improve quality of life in Binalonan.
“We have to take responsibility for ourselves,” he said.
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