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No touch! Are you too expressive?

Filipinos are usually a personable, expressive bunch, especially with their special someone. But is this allowed in the UAE? The Filipino Times looks into what the law says and what is not allowed

DUBAI: Joey and Amanda (not their real names) thought they were being romantic by subtly fondling each other, when men, apparently operatives of the police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), apprehended them. Eventually, they were wed to make it legal. Eddie and Nancy were in a restaurant, enjoying intimate moments and expressing affection when their Emirates ID were confiscated.

The same happened to Carlito and Katrin who were by the beach also engaging themselves in a public display of affection. Two men – a 27-year-old Filipino working as a salon receptionist and a 32-year-old Omani – were arrested by police following a tipoff that they were fondling each other in a parked car near a beach in Jumeirah.

The court handed them three months prison terms each followed by deportation. The Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi has no statistics on how many Filipinos were in troubles pecifically over PDA, but it has monitored “several cases involving immorality” and was assisting about 30 individuals with legal help in various cases.


“Nasa ibang bansa tayo na may ibang kultura. Self-explanatory yun,” Ambassador Constancio R. Vingno, Jr. said. “Sa Pilipinas kapag nakakakita tayo ng mgadayuhang naghahalikan in public, di ba nababastusan tayo? Kung tayo nga nai-i-scandalized, sila pa kaya dito?” he added.

Vingno said overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) only have to remember what was taught to them during their Pre-departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) regarding how to behave when in the Middle East. Those who arrived in the UAE on a visit visa and have been able to land jobs should undergo the Post-arrival Orientation Seminar (PAOS) supervised by the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai, he said.

“The embassy has also partnered with Gulf Law, which provides legal aid and holds seminars. We also have a retainer lawyer, who can provide legal advice for Filipinos who may need it. Newspapers and several columnists also provide Q&A for legal advice that I think is useful to their readers, including myself,” the ambassador said in a separate interview with UAE Interior’s 999 magazine.

Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes, for his part, urged Filipinos in the UAE to “refrain from overt public displays of affection.” “The UAE society is a conservative community with strong reservations on certain cultural practices that we, Filipinos, may be used to back home in our country,” he said, adding “Let us not abuse the UAE’s welcome of all nationalities and ethnicities and I urge all kababayans to respect local laws and customs.”


According to Article 358 of UAE Federal Law no.3 of 1987, any display of affection between couples – whether married or not – in public places does not fit local customs and culture. Accordingly, any such public displays of affection, including kissing in public, is a violation of UAE Penal Law of 1987 and is liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.

“Social values here are very different from that of Western countries,” said advocate Imran Khan. “Most countries don’t permit PDA in public areas in a vulgar manner, but in terms of seriousness, UAE law enforcement is stricter,” he added. Khan said the UAE penal code establishes that kissing, hugging and other kinds of display of affection are all inappropriate in the country. “If PDA is showing affection towards someone, then it should be done in the presence of only that person. PDA isn’t a show of love, it could be a sign of immaturity, aside from being ignorant of the code of the UAE law,” he said.

The Dubai Code of Conduct could not be more specific. Its provisions under “Social Ethics” says: “Displays of affection among couples — whether married or not — in public places does not fit the local customs and culture. “Holding hands for a married couple is tolerated but kissing and petting are considered an offense to public decency.

Public displays of affection, as well as sexual harassment or randomly addressing women in public places, is liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.” If an expat is arrested for PDA, they may seek help from the diplomatic missions of their own country.

However, the UAE law is supreme, and the mission can’t override it or intervene in the judicial process, Khan said. Vingno said the embassy has no statistics on how many Filipinos were in trouble specifically over PDA, but it has monitored “several cases involving immorality” and was assisting about 30 individuals with legal help in various cases. The assistance did not extend to providing a lawyer; it was more about monitoring the cases and providing updates to the next-ofkin of the accused.

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