MANILA: Philippine lawmakers have passed a bill to create a new, safe Filipino greeting to reduce physical contact as the country grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Bating Filipino Para sa Kalusugan Act, approved by the House of Representatives last week, was authored by Marikina Representative Bayani Fernando, who suggested that the traditional handshake was a risk to public health amid the virus outbreak.
The new greeting gesture, according to the law, will involve “gracefully laying the palm of the right hand over the center of one’s chest while simultaneously lowering the head.”
While performing the greeting, one’s eyes should be either closed or cast down.
“The medical profession has established that the traditional, well-meaning, and innocent gesture of handshake transmits communicable diseases and is a risk to one’s health,” Fernando said.
He added that placing the hand over the chest is a universal and humble gesture that “expresses sincere greeting, respect, praise and trust” especially when done “with grace” and what he described as “our best, very Filipino smile.”
Aiming to “instill health consciousness” and “protect the health and well-being of the Filipino people,” the law mandates that all government agencies encourage the practice of the new gesture, welcomed by the Department of Health as helpful to “break the chain of COVID-19 transmission.”
The new law is binding for Filipino citizens and other persons who are in the Philippines. For now, however, there is no penalty for those who do not follow it.
Within 60 days from the approval of the bill, authorities will issue the act’s implementation rules.
The Bating Filipino Act comes as the Philippines struggles to control the virus and is one of the worst-affected countries in Asia, despite strict lockdowns and health guidelines.
The country’s virus tally surpassed 513,619 on Sunday, as nearly 1,949 new infections were reported in the country of 110 million people. The death toll has risen to 10,242.