December 8, 2022

A few days back, an ad looking for servers and other restaurant staff was posted on Facebook.

What was striking was aside from the usual educational requirements, it specified that applicants should not have tattoos and immediately, netizens said the establishment is discriminatory.

We do not have a law regarding tattooing in the Philippines.

In Japan, their Supreme Court has made a historic ruling that tattooing people without a medical license is now legal. Tattoos in Japan have remained taboo because it was associated with the Yakuza. Even today, many public facilities like bathhouses or swimming pools do not allow individuals with tattoos to enter.

Their ruling came after a debate over the case of 32-year-old tattoo artist Taika Masuda who was arrested and fined ¥150,000 ($1,430) for tattooing three female customers without a medical license in Suita, Japan in 2014. The Medical Practitioners’ Act considers the process of getting tattoos a medical procedure in regards to maintaining hygienic standards and preventing skin disorders, thus requiring a medical license.

Masuda was found guilty in 2017 by an Osaka District Court. In 2018, the Osaka High Court overturned the ruling after deciding tattoos are for decorative and artistic purposes and not medical. “Tattooing is not considered medical treatment nor an act linked to health care.” Tattooing is “a practice seen since ancient times as part of regional customs.”

Justice Koichi Kusano recommended that a new law should be made to establish safety measures to prevent risks from tattoo procedures performed by non-medically licensed tattoo artists in the future.

In the Philippines, the SC in G.R. L-46272 dated June 13, 1986 People vs. Opida and Marcelo, gave a few points on tattoos.

On July 31, 1976, in Quezon City, several persons ganged up on Fabian Galvan until one of them stabbed him to death.

The actual knife-wielder was identified as Mario del Mundo but Alberto Opida and Virgilio Marcelo were charged with murder as co-conspirators and were all sentenced to death.

What is striking about this case is the way the judge conducted his examination of witnesses. It was hardly judicious, certainly far from judicial, at times irrelevant, and at worst, malicious.

Opida was a police character, a member of the Commando Gang and with a string of convictions for robbery, theft, and vagrancy. It is worth noting that the judge took special interest in his tattoos, required him to remove his shirt so they could be examined, and even described them in detail for the record.

Besides belaboring Opida’s criminal activities, drug addiction, membership in the Commando, tattoos, parental infidelity, and his tattoos, the judge asked him if he had ever been confined at a mental hospital and suggested that the claim of abuse was a lie because policemen leave no mark when they torture a suspect. He noted Opida was gnashing his teeth, showed signs of hostility, uneasiness, restlessness, often interrupting asking more biased questions than counsels. Saving the best or worst of his spite for witness Lilian Layug, a waitress in the restaurant where Opida was working as a cook, the judge mockingly noted at the outset that she spoke English, he wanted to know where she had learned it and insinuated if she had worked in Angeles City or Olongapo or Sangley.

The SC said the questions were not clarificatory but adversary; if not adversary, irrelevant and sometimes cruel and at one point mentioning his mother living with another man suggesting that the mother was unfaithful to his father. The SC said lower court failed to see what possible connection the mother’s infidelity could have by any stretch of the imagination with the case. It deplored this sadistic treatment of the witness, especially because he could not answer back.

The scales of justice must hang equal and, in fact, should even be tipped in favor of the accused because of the constitutional presumption of innocence. Needless to stress, this right is available to every accused, whatever his present circumstance and no matter how dark and repellent his past. Despite their sinister connotations in our society, tattoos are at best dubious adornments only and surely not under our laws indicate criminality. Of bad taste perhaps, but not of crime.

A conviction must not be based on the mere appearance of the accused but on his actual commission of a crime. Bottomline, thou shall not judge a man by his tattoos.

Sigh!