Public pay toilets and unisex public restrooms

So far, a social and legal problem of immense consequence has largely been unnoticed by the general public.  That problem is the proliferation of “pay toilets,” or restrooms which require an admission fee for their use.  These pay toilets are present not just in plush establishments in the metropolis, but even in shopping malls, commercial arcades, and restaurants open to the general public.

Under existing laws, public buildings and private commercial buildings accessible to the public must have clean and sanitary public toilets for the separate use of each of the genders.  City and municipal health and sanitation ordinances require the building’s management to constantly maintain these public rest rooms, and to make sure that they are fit for human use.  Penal sanctions await those who do not comply with the requirements of these laws and ordinances. 

The law protecting persons with disabilities also requires that new toilets in public buildings and buildings accessible to the public must designate a separate facility for PWDs.  These facilities for PWDs are also covered by laws and ordinances which require the building management to maintain sanitation there.  Hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, commercial arcades, and similar business establishments are covered by this law.     

The importance of toilets in any facility cannot be gainsaid.  Almost every person who patronizes an establishment that serves food and beverages will inevitably need to go to the rest room, either to wash up or to relieve himself.  Since disease-causing germs thrive in damp and moist places like public toilets, the law requires whoever is in charge of the public comfort room concerned to maintain it and keep it clean. 

In fact, toilets are so important that it is unthinkable for business establishments to charge customers for the use of their toilets.  To state the obvious—it’s a basic right.       

The public’s right of free access to toilets in a public edifice or a private building accessible to the public is quietly being ignored by several commercial establishments.

A leading shopping mall in the heart of Makati has pay toilets located at convenient places, while its so-called “public toilets” are rather difficult to reach.  Over in Mandaluyong City, a five-star hotel and its adjacent shopping mall have pay toilets in convenient areas, while the “public toilets” are difficult to reach.  In a commercial arcade in uptown Pasig City near the Meralco head office, the pay toilet is air-conditioned and well maintained, while the “public toilet” is hardly anything like it.  Down the Valle Verde area likewise in Pasig City, there is an enclave of small bars and restaurants where the only rest room is a pay toilet attended to by a female employee.  

The foregoing enumeration is not exhaustive.  There are other shopping malls, commercial arcades, restaurants, and similar business establishments in Manila, Quezon City, and San Juan which are also into this questionable practice.

The excuse offered for the existence of these pay toilets is that it costs money to keep restrooms clean and usable at all times.  Pardon the pun but that excuse is crap.     

As discussed earlier, it is the legal obligation of every shopping mall, commercial arcade, restaurant and similar business establishment to make clean and sanitary restrooms available to its clientele.  To charge customers for the maintenance of clean and sanitary restrooms, which is an obligation mandated by law, is tantamount to charging people an amount of money for the exercise of a legal right protected under the law and pertinent ordinances.

Other questions also arise.  If the management can go out its way to maintain a clean and sanitary pay toilet, why shouldn’t it do the same for the “public restroom?”  Why should one and the same shopping mall, commercial arcade, restaurant and similar business establishment maintain a cleaner, more well maintained restroom for customers who can pay, and leave a less cleaner, less maintained comfort room for customers who do not wish to pay for the exercise of their right to use a toilet in the first place?  Why should the right to relieve oneself in a clean and sanitary restroom in a shopping mall, commercial arcade, restaurant, or similar business establishment be subject to a price tag?

There is a saying that the call of nature is one great equalizer.  Everyone, rich or poor, will have to relieve himself at one point or another, wherever he or she may be.  Apparently, that saying is no longer true.  Even the right to relieve oneself in a public restroom now has a price tag.

By way of analogy, there are memorial parks for the rich, and graveyards for the poor.  Now, there are pay toilets for those who have money, and “public toilets” for those who don’t.  

Public restrooms, by their very nomenclature, must be treated as a public facility.  That is the reason why the law requires the building or mall management to keep those public restrooms clean and sanitary.  Charging a fee for the use of public restrooms is an anomaly, and violates public policy.  Congress should take a look at this issue.     

What are the city governments of Makati, Mandaluyong and Pasig doing about this?  Under the law, they are empowered to put a stop to this objectionable practice.

Speaking of restrooms, many plush restaurants and high-end coffee shops in Metropolitan Manila have unisex restrooms.  Doesn’t the law require separate toilet facilities for men and women customers?  Many women customers complain that male customers who use unisex restrooms tend to a make a mess of the toilet seat.  On the other hand, male customers argue that women take a longer time to use a restroom than men do.  For this reason, male customers complain that female customers take a long time to use unisex restrooms. 

This problem can be avoided if these restaurants and coffee shops provide separate toilet facilities for men and women.

Topics: Victor Avecilla , Public pay toilets , unisex public restrooms , persons with disabilities , PWDs
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