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Friday, July 19, 2024

Weaponized TROs

“The NCAP’s oppositors are mostly violators caught on camera who want to get away with bad driving”

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A Temporary Restraining Order, or TRO, is a type of court order designed to stop a person, organization, or any institution, public or private, from doing certain things for a specific period.

You might have heard of TROs in relation to domestic violence cases and other dangerous situations, like stalking or sexual assault.

However, TROs have been issued against government projects oftentimes by losing bidders or by parties that would allegedly be disadvantaged or suffer immediate and irreparable harm if the order isn’t issued.

TROs are meant to protect people from harm, but they can sometimes be misused.

For instance, someone or some group might make false accusations to get a TRO out of spite or even to harass by repeatedly filing or escalate, causing financial stress to the accused party.

Another motivation is to gain an advantage over the restrained party.

Sadly, instead of being a legal way of relieving an affected party from potential harm, TROs can be a weapon that, beyond the effect to the subject of the restraining order, will have a radiating hit to other stakeholders that a national or local government project is supposed to benefit.

Imagine you’re building a house, but someone takes you to court, and you’re ordered to stop construction.

That’s what a TRO can do to a government project.

Plus, when people see a project getting stuck in legal issues, they start losing faith in the government’s ability to get things done.

This will cause investors who have committed to partnering with the government to rethink or even back out.

News spreads quickly in the international community and will make it more difficult for the Philippines to compete with other developing countries vying to attract big capital for big ticket infrastructure programs.

And don’t forget, these projects are key drivers of economic growth — so any delay can slow down the economy too.

So, while TROs have their place, they can have quite a significant impact when used against government projects.

To counter what has become an anticipated risk in every government tender, Republic Act 8975, titled “An Act to Ensure the Expeditious Implementation and Completion of Government Infrastructure Projects by Prohibiting Lower Courts from Issuing Temporary Restraining Orders, Preliminary Injunctions or Preliminary Mandatory Injunctions, Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof, And for Other Purposes,” was enacted into law in November 2000.

It stops lower courts from putting a hold on government infrastructure projects.

You might be wondering why that’s a big deal.

Well, imagine you’re in charge of a major project that’s going to benefit millions of people and boost the Gross Domestic Product of the country.

But then, a legal dispute pops up and the project gets put on hold.

Deadlines pushed back, thousands of employments and linked business opportunities are stymied, and people can’t benefit from the project.

That’s where this law comes in.

This is critical for Public-Private Partnership projects, which often involve big investments and have a huge impact on economic development.

Last Friday, it took me one and half hours to negotiate a mere six-kilometer drive from Makati to Ortigas Center.

While stuck in the car, frustrations on how bad our road and mass transport system came to mind.

No short term solution to that, but what peeved me most was how undisciplined many drivers regardless of vehicle, are, which has been identified by many studies as a major cause of the daily and very costly “carmageddons” in the roads of Mega-Manila.

I wrote about this in my column on the TRO against the No Contact Apprehension Program wherein I said only bad drivers are afraid of NCAP because they have been caught with violations and are being charged corresponding penalties for it.

Even a Pulse Asia survey revealed that 8 out of 10 Filipinos agree “NCAP will be effective in achieving its objective of disciplining motorists to improve road safety.”

The NCAP’s oppositors are mostly violators caught on camera who want to get away with bad driving. They are protecting their own interests, not the public’s. They cause traffic problems and endanger other road users.

The NCAP is a good example whereby the LGUs were even empowered in keeping with the Local Government Code as they entered into a PPP to implement the program.

Similarly, this is attuned to PBBM’s pronouncement in his first SONA that LGUs must participate more in joint venture and PPP projects. As data from LGUs have proven NCAP has been effective in making drivers behave.

As of now, the TRO is still in effect, leaving traffic enforcement to the human limitations of MMDA and local enforcers.

The Office of the Solicitor General has asked the Supreme Court to lift the TRO.

The MMDA said it will also file a similar petition to lift the TRO.

The Supreme Court has wrapped up the Oral arguments and the petition was submitted for decision last January 2023.

Non-Contact Apprehension Systems are already proven to be effective in countries such as the United States, Singapore, South Korea, India, and Malaysia.

Their systems minimize human intervention linked to corruption, instill discipline on the road, and function as a force multiplier for traffic enforcement – installing cameras on every street corner is far more efficient and viable.

There are many examples such as the TRO because of right of way issues in the Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX) project.

Thankfully, its developers were able to manage this well and is now operational. CALAX is my preferred route going to the Sta. Rosa and Canlubang area.

No less than the Supreme Court, through Administrative Circulars, has been reminding the lower courts to comply with RA 8975 and stop the practice of issuing out TROs against infrastructure projects of government.

To stop this damaging practice of weaponizing TROs to the detriment of national interest, it is high time penalties be re-evaluated and adjusted to a level that would effectively deter judges from violating the law.

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