The UP ‘mashing’ incident in 1941
On the evening of Jan. 14, 1941, a torch parade from the Legislative Building (today the National Gallery of Fine Arts, National Museum of the Philippines) wound its way from Taft Avenue toward the University of the Philippines campus on Padre Faura. The parade was being held in honor of Speaker Jose Yulo, who had just arrived in Manila from the United States.
When the marchers arrived at the UP campus, they dropped their torches into a bonfire whose flames lit the darkness as well as the faces of the other students from nearby Philippine Women’s University (PWU). The ladies were surrounded by men who allegedly “mashed” them.
So scandalous was the incident that it was denounced in a speech at the Manila City Council by Carmen “Mameng” Planas, who cited it as “an unfailing sign of moral decadence.” Planas then brought up her anti-mashing ordinance that, she claimed, had been “killed” by the Nacionalista majority in the City Council for their political reasons. She argued that the UP incident was proof that the city needed to provide stiffer penalties for mashing or “unjust vexation.”
To date, unjust vexation remains in the Revised Penal Code despite attempts to delete or at least define it clearly. This very broad offense today carries a punishment of imprisonment of 1-30 days or a fine as low as P1,000 or as high as P40,000.
In 1941, Planas defined “mashing” as a man hugging or kissing a woman without her consent. She proposed increasing the penalty for mashing from the P5 fine to P20, which could be coupled with imprisonment of not less than 20 days for the first offense, and a fine of not less than P200 or imprisonment of not less than two months, or both, for the second offense. Furthermore, she called for the publication of the offender’s mugshots in the newspapers with the caption “convicted of mashing.”
Maximo Kalaw, in speeches and press releases, blamed then UP president Bienvenido Ma. Gonzales for lax security and called for the Philippine Assembly to raise mashing as a national issue. Amando Dayrit , in his “Good Morning, Judge” column in the Tribune, had a field day taking potshots at politicians grandstanding on the matter.
While many Filipinos worried about the war in Europe and whether it would reach Manila, Dayrit wrote: “If a few unlighted torches can [produce a mashing spree], I hate to think what would happen in case of a complete blackout… The average Filipino, especially if he has been to college, is not to be trusted in the dark, and if blackouts are ever enforced here in the event of war, the girls will have a time of it fighting invasion on two fronts.”
Then Dayrit zeroed in on the proposed Planas ordinance: “Mameng probably thinks that this will abolish mashing, and if she does, she is entitled to her opinion. We hold a more perverted view of the matter. We think mashing will never be abolished until we abolish the public school system…” He added that since the College Editors Guild had elected an intercollegiate girl, how about electing an intercollegiate masher? He also suggested arming women with hairpins for their safety.
Today, reading through all that commentary makes for very engaging reading. But drowned out in that debate was the statement of the Manila Police chief: that there was no disturbance during and after the torch parade, and that no complaints were filed regarding mashing that evening. PWU president Francisca Tirona Benitez refused to allow the “mashed” girls to be interviewed, so police inquiries bogged down. It was an open-and-shut case. There was no case to start with. However, Benitez congratulated the PWU girls for fighting their way out of UP that night, beating the mashers with their shoes and scratching them with their hairpins.
What really happened that night in 1941? We will never know. Perhaps some guys stole a kiss, hugged the girls, or indulged in unjust vexation. Mashing does require more than that, and is difficult to do in so public a space. Rereading my notes on the 1941 UP mashing incident jotted down three decades ago made me realize that it deserves a closer look, if only to contextualize today’s standards, where inappropriate language, behavior, gestures, and touching are grounds for sexual harassment.
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