Editor’s Note: This column first appeared in Hospitality News’ January 10, 2015 Issue.
On May 27, 2013, Republic Act No. 10586, otherwise known as the Act Penalizing Persons Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, Dangerous Drugs and Other Similar Substances was signed into law by President Noynoy Aquino. It was a long overdue legislature that took over the previous “jurassic” RA 4136 implemented way back since 1964 by then President Diosdado Macapagal (yup…GMA’s dad).
This RA 10586 however became an official law only last June 2014, after the IRR (implementing rules and regulations) was published for public knowledge. A major component of this new law is the very stiff punishment for violators which now include mandatory imprisonment and hefty fines. This law’s provision on the alcohol side is also far more detailed, as the drug component of the law is quite straightforward and has very specific rules mandated by Republic Act No. 9165 also known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
I am in total agreement with this law on the basic principle that the “State will ensure road safety through the observance of the citizenry of responsible and ethical driving standards” (copied verbatim from section 2, under Declaration of Policy of RA 10586). However, my concern is like on most well-intentioned laws: How to have this decree implemented, especially with corruption and even abuse of law enforcers (MMDA and police) giving much higher propensity of bribery from violators to escape jail sentence.
Let us examine some of the specific sections of RA 10586:
SEC. 3. Definition of Terms. —For purposes of this Act:
(e) Driving under the influence of alcohol refers to the act of operating a motor vehicle while the driver’s blood alcohol concentration level has, after being subjected to a breath analyzer test, reached the level of intoxication, as established jointly by the Department of Health (DOH), the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).
Our law states a Blood Alcohol Concentration or BAC ceiling of 0.05 percent. This BAC percentage is attained through the use breath analyzers (section 9 under Acquisition of Equipment). When the user exhales into this apparatus, any ethanol present in their breath is oxidized to acetic acid. This reaction is then measured by a microprocessor and displayed as an approximation of blood alcohol concentration.
The BAC ceiling in the U.S. and Canada is 0.08 percent. In Australia, it is 0.05 percent, while in China, it starts from 0.02 percent but there is harsher penalty for those caught with 0.08 percent and above. Roughly, and depending on body weight, our BAC will not reach 0.05 percent if we consume two beers, or two wine glasses, or two shots of spirits (not altogether), in a span of an hour. The longer we take the same alcohol, the lesser the BAC, so an extra hour of drinking, may mean adding another 330 milliliter can of beer and still not going over the 0.05 percent ceiling.
SEC. 7. Mandatory Alcohol and Chemical Testing of Drivers Involved in Motor Vehicular Accidents. —A driver of a motor vehicle involved in a vehicular accident resulting in the loss of human life or physical injuries shall be subjected to chemical tests, including a drug screening test and, if necessary, a drug confirmatory test as mandated under Republic Act No. 9165, to determine the presence and/or concentration of alcohol, dangerous drugs and/or similar substances in the bloodstream or body.
This section is the main teeth of the law. I feel that previously, prior to the signing of RA 10586, drunk drivers get away with this in all impunity. Accidents are blamed to weather conditions or other made-up stories, when the real culprit is the alcohol intake. Now, the mandatory test can determine the driver’s BAC and put him or her rightfully in jail.
SEC. 12. Penalties.—A driver found to have been driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, dangerous drugs and/or other similar substances, as provided for under Section 5 of this Act, shall be penalized as follows: (a) If the violation of Section 5 did not result in physical injuries or homicide, the penalty of three (3) months imprisonment, and a fine ranging from Twenty thousand pesos (Php20,000.00) to Eighty thousand pesos (Php80,000.00) shall be imposed
I quoted only the first entry of this section to demonstrate how severe the penalties are. The other entries in this Section 12 covering items (b) to (d) cites penalties provided in Article 263 of the Revised Penal Code, which involved prison sentences for causing serious physical injuries to others. So based on this entry section 12 (a) at the minimum violation of this anti-drunk driving law, and on the initial offense, with no injury to others, there is already a mandatory jail sentence of three months. This is a very harsh penalty even compared to most countries. In Canada, the first offense is a fine of around CAD1,000, and only on second offense will there be jail sentence. In Australia, only repeat offenders will be given jail sentences.
The fine, while still stiff, is quite at par with First World countries (and much below developing countries). Now, the jail sentence, more than the monetary fines, can easily be the main extortion conduit for traffic enforcers and police alike. Who wants to go to jail? The rich can afford the monetary penalties, but will do everything to avoid imprisonment. I actually foresee more police visibility during unholy hours especially on weekends as there will be plenty of offenders especially during this festive period.
It is actually almost too candid that when PNoy signed the bill last year, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, admitted that it could be open to abuse, especially by traffic enforcers who would demand bribes from motorists. The bribery was immediately a concern over a landmark bill that will save lives. But at the end of the day, barring whatever implementation glitches that may come, this RA 10586 is a great law. As good citizens let us do our part, and just avoid the complication of alcohol (and drug) abuse while driving, as the adage goes, drink responsibly.