Amante: Time for a spirited discussion

TWO Sundays ago, all bars, restaurants, hotels, and stores within 300 meters of the Sinulog parade route weren’t supposed to sell alcoholic drinks in Cebu City. Not even as part of room service, when the liquor would presumably be consumed behind closed doors.

So determined were the Sinulog organizers to prevent public drunkenness that even the private consumption of alcohol was temporarily banned. Of course, those determined to drink had the option to walk more than a third of a kilometer away from the parade route, and they would then be free to imbibe. But if anyone opposed the ban, they never got around to organizing their opposition to it. Most seemed to approve, especially since the Sinulog, for the first time in years, didn’t end with near-stampedes or the spread of photographs of teenagers passed out in street gutters.

The big surprise came a few days after, when Mandaue City officials announced that the City would now be regulating the sale and consumption of liquor. It’s surprising that it has taken Mandaue a long time to attempt this, considering that bars and clubs have been thriving in the city for more than 15 years.

It’s certainly not the first time a mayor asked people to stay dry, although in most cases, the prohibition applies to a specific zone. In 2013, for example, Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada prohibited the sale of beer and other liquor within 200 meters of the walls of the University of Sto. Tomas, on all four Sundays of October. The Bar Examinations were conducted in UST that month, and the mayor wanted to make sure that no alcohol would be available from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. In that year, one out of every five applicants (about 22.18 percent or 1,174 persons) passed the Bar exams, four percentage points higher than in the year before. No one knows if the liquor ban had anything to do with that.

What Mandaue’s officials plan to do is broader and more sustained, meant to last more than a day or four Sundays in a row. What some of Mandaue’s officials are proposing is to prohibit the sale of alcohol from midnight to 7 a.m. every day, everywhere. Yes, even in the 24-hour convenience stores that have become watering holes for teenagers and young workers, especially during the weekends. What this will do is compel drinkers to organize better, to anticipate and buy ahead of time the alcohol they want, before the ban kicks in, and to find a private spot (a sala, porch or yard) where their drinking buddies can steer clear of the City’s police and other enforcers.

Liquor bans, while not uncommon, belong to a set of regulations that paternalistic government officials favor. These regulations are meant to protect not just the rest of us—prevent, for instance, the risky behavior and rudeness that some drunk revelers in Sinulog after-parties used to inflict on others. These are also meant to protect some people from themselves. Such regulations begin with the expectation that most individuals decide poorly and, in some cases, create situations that harm others around them.

While libertarians might worry about paternalistic regulations, there’s a strong case for regulating liquor sales. Alcohol abuse killed more persons than did road traffic accidents in the Philippines in 2012, which are the latest figures made available by the World Health Organization (WHO). In that report, the WHO pointed out that traffic accidents killed 29 persons out of every 100,000. Ten percent of those deaths were “alcohol-attributable.” Liver cirrhosis killed 45 out of every 100,000 in that same year. Of that group, 67 percent could be attributed to alcohol consumption. As controversial as the idea might be, it’s good for local officials to think seriously about how to curb alcohol abuse. Let’s drink to that. Or not.
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