A Newbie’s Survival Guide to Davao ‘Martial Laws’


To those planning to visit Davao City, it would be safe not to treat it like anywhere else in the Philippines. It has local laws that is aimed squarely at maintaining order among citizens and seemed to work well soon as they were implemented. Because of the way they are religiously imposed and not just meant for documentation, some people might as well brand the city as under ‘martial law.’

Whether it’s under martial law or a community of generally law-abiding citizens, Davao seems to be a utopian society where residents enjoy relative safety, orderliness and discipline often not observed elsewhere in the Philippines. But for the sake of those who wish to label Davao under such military regime, let’s check out how to survive in Davao’s ‘martial rule.’

Smoking Ban
Davao City Ordinance No. 0367-12, Series of 2012, otherwise known as The New Comprehensive Anti-Smoking Ordinance was an update to an earlier version of the law. It prohibits smoking of any tobacco product including e-cigarettes, shishas and the like, in all accommodation and entertainment establishments, workplaces, enclosed public places, partially enclosed public places, public buildings, public outdoor spaces and all public conveyances, government-owned vehicles and other means of public transport within the territorial jurisdiction of Davao City.

To a newcomer it looks like there are very few options for people to smoke in the public. In fact, designated smoking areas, if any, are placed far from the crowd such as in a place cordoned off in the middle of an open air parking lot. If uncertain where to light a cigar, ask a reliable person nearby. Blatant violation of the law could end in a messy situation like the case of a stubborn tourist getting that first-hand ‘martial law’ treatment.

Our advise to get around this tough law: quit smoking!

As added information, fines collected from smokers caught lighting up on prohibited areas go to cancer patients, especially young ones. Isn’t that noble?

Karaoke Ban
Newcomers who wish to sing the karaoke may have to restrict their music to themselves or at enclosed places after 10pm. That’s because an Executive Order has been signed by Mayor Duterte limiting the operation of video-karaoke and sing-along in bars, restaurants, eateries and similar establishments without sufficient enclosures and causing excessive noise up to only to 10:00pm.

Although this law may raise a howl among business establishments whose attraction to microphone-grabbing customers peak just after dinner time, or folks who wish to sing to match drinks and pulutan, this order has eventually been embraced, knowing that there is time for everything. A time to start singing, and a time to finish a song. A time to wake up, and a time to sleep. At 10pm, the city wants people to go to bed and sleep peacefully.

This ban extends to live music. Bands usually have their first sets commence at 8:30pm as people start to gather, and conclude at 1am just as everyone had enough time to socialize while listening to music. Four hours of live beautiful music should be enough to conclude the day.

Liquor Ban
A liquor ban from 2am to 6am has been imposed in Davao City through City Ordinance 1627 in 1994, but this has been amended in 2013 to between 1am and 8am after proponents observed higher incidence of crime attributed to the selling of liquor at wee hours of the morning. The amendment also removed the supposed exemption granted on tourism-related establishments.

At Davao’s bars, waiters and bartenders routinely announce to patrons that last alcohol orders for the day right after midnight. At convenience stores, the same practice is in place. Customers may order alcoholic drinks before 1am and bring them home to extend the drinking spree — no problem. Just don’t do it outdoors. But for those who wish to enjoy the ambiance of Davao’s bars, we advise visitors to arrive early at happy hours.

Liquor ban is not only time-dependent, it’s also age dependent. Like in many other places, selling of alcoholic drinks to minors is prohibited. Minors are likewise barred from entering certain establishments such as those that sell intoxicating drinks.

Although establishments generally abide by these laws, police make routine inspections and anyone caught are fined or worse, their business permits face cancellation for repeat offenders.

Firecracker ban
Davao City has been able to get rid of the risk of death, injuries and annoyance of litter and air pollution as it successfully banned firecrackers — and indiscriminate firing — during Christmas season. As other cities have grappled over the number of injured revelers rushed to hospitals, nurses stationed at Davao City clinics and hospitals could spend time attending to party inside their quarters instead of attending to patients.

The absence of firecrackers help ensure the safety of churchgoers who used to tiptoe in fear of stepping on powerful firecrackers or suffocate on toxic smoke.

Eventhough firecrackers are outlawed in Davao, its Torotot Festival makes sure there is a festive mood and a joyful welcome of the new year.

Curfew — such word evokes bad memories during martial laws in the 70s and 80s when people are told to stay indoors or face terrible consequences. Thankfully, in Davao, this measure is imposed for the sake of everyone’s welfare. Limits are set at certain times, just as mentioned above:

Filipinos are big fans of singing so videokes are a popular pastime. Yet to neighbors it can be an annoying disturbance. That is why a curfew on loud videoke is imposed at this time.

10PM until 5AM
This curfew is for unescorted minors (18 and below). Such young ones are supposed to be asleep at home, doing their homework or prepare for school the following day.

Liquor sales are permitted until 1am. This is intended so that adults won’t get too intoxicated and get sick with hangover the following morning.

Martial law you say?
As you can see, laws implemented in Davao are drafted not for the sake of just creating them, but for the benefit of the city. A liquor ban at 1am may not eliminate the incidence of drunk driving, but should certainly help curb such incidents. Likewise, ban in selling of alcoholic drinks at that time helps encourage people to go home and sleep, and minimize effects of hangover on someone’s productivity at work the following day. Also, streets clear of drunk people allows street cleaners to do their jobs more efficiently so you see spotless avenues and empty garbage bins in the morning.

Ban on loud music at 10pm helps the community settle more peacefully, and minimize untoward incidents possibly fueled by alcohol and rowdy behavior triggered by loud karaoke.

If that’s martial law for you, so be it — as long as you are safe, healthy and productive.