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Friday, July 26, 2024

The devil and the deep blue sea

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The Supreme Court deserves credit for acting promptly on the petition to stop, at least temporarily, the controversial No Contact Apprehension Policy (NCAP) implemented in Metro Manila.

The temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the High Tribunal last week directed the Land Transportation Office (LTO), Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the city governments of Manila, Quezon City, Valenzuela, Parañaque and Muntinlupa to stop NCAP implementation “until further orders” and set hearings on the issue in January next year.

The Supreme Court acted on a petition filed last month by four public transport groups that said the NCAP places motorists “under the constant threat of being arbitrarily apprehended remotely.”

The transport groups argued that the city ordinances implementing the policy are invalid since Congress has not amended Republic Act 4136 or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code, the 1964 law creating the LTO.

They claim that the law allows only face-to-face apprehension of traffic violators and places such liability on erring drivers, not the registered vehicle owners.

The transport groups also deplored what they called “unreasonable” penalties under the NCAP, including non-renewal of vehicle registration until traffic fines are paid.

A lawyer, meanwhile, also filed a petition last August 18, claiming that his right to due process was violated since he had not been notified about his four supposed traffic violations in Manila — for which, he said, he had to pay more than P20,000 in penalties just so he could renew his vehicle registration.

The Manila City Government claims that traffic violations and road accidents in Manila have gone down by 90 percent and 62 percent, respectively, with the NCAP enforced in Manila in 2021.

“The evidence shows that NCAP keeps traffic flowing smoother and faster and keeps motorists, bicycle users, and pedestrians safe on the city roads and streets,” said Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna.

The Quezon City local government said it “fully respects” the Supreme Court’s order but also pointed out that the NCAP helped reduce traffic violations in Quezon City by 93 percent and “instill… a culture of traffic discipline among motorists. [Thus] we believe that its implementation is legal and proper.”

But perhaps it was the position of the LTO that could have convinced the Supreme Court to issue the TRO.

LTO chief Teofilo Guadiz III said his office “together with the LGUs, transport groups, and other concerned stakeholders will have more time to sit down and discuss issues related to the policy. One of the LTO’s main concerns from the very start regarding the NCAP was on the issue of data privacy and compliance with the country’s data privacy laws.”

With the NCAP temporarily suspended and city governments forced to field more traffic enforcers in major intersections where state-of-the-art computers used to identify traffic violators, will traffic flow be better? Or worse?

It appears to be a choice between the devil (the NCAP that sees violations where there’s really none in some cases, or its hefty fines not commensurate with the gravity of the offense) and the deep blue sea (corrupt traffic enforcers flagging down motorists for real or imagined violations and asking for bribes).

Is it any wonder that the traffic mess in Metro Manila is not likely to go away very soon?

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