The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the orders issued by Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Office imposing stiffer penalties against operators of unlicensed or “colorum” vehicles and erring drivers.
In a 69-page en banc decision authored by Associate Justice Jhosep Lopez, the SC ruled that the imposition of higher fines against erring motorists and operators of public utility vehicles (PUVs) under LTO Department Order (DO) No. 2008-39 and its amended version Joint Administrative Order No. 2014-01 were necessary to promote public safety and welfare.
LTO Department Order 2008-39 which came into effect in March 2009 imposes a penalty of P5,000 on drunk drivers and P10,000 on drivers under the influence of drugs.
The order also imposes fines of P1,500 for driving without a license; P400 for driving with an expired license; P2,000 for possessing a fake driver’s license; P3,000 for conviction for a crime perpetrated with the use of a motor vehicle; and P6,000 for driving a public utility vehicle out of line.
On June 2, 2014, D.O No. 2008-39 was superseded by Joint Administrative Order No. 2014-01 or the Revised Schedule of Fines and Penalties for Violations of Laws, Rules and Regulations Governing Land Transportation” issued by the LTO and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
The DO No. 2008-39 imposes a fine of P50,000 on public utility jeepneys plying the routes without franchise; P6,000 for motorcycles; P120,000 for sedans; P200,000 for vans; and up to P1 million for buses.
The operators’ certificate of public convenience (CPC) and registration will also be revoked and their vehicles will be impounded for three months.
“To aggravate the already pernicious nature of the roads is the proliferation of colorum vehicles. As their continued conduct absent requisite authority immeasurably endanger the lives of the riding public, it is necessary for the State, pursuant to its police power devolving unto the DOTC and its agencies, to place reasonable restrictions in the form of higher fees and stricter penalties upon the operation of motor vehicles,” the SC declared.
The ruling arose from the consolidated petitions filed by various operators, drivers and various transport groups assailing the constitutionality of the said orders.
The petitioners include Angat Tsuper Samahan ng Mga Tsuper At Operator ng Pilipinas (Angat Tsuper/Stop and Go) and its affiliate groups; Maria Basa Express Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association Inc; Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston); Ximex Delivery Express, Inc.; National Confederation of Transport Workers Inc. and its affiliate groups.
They named the Department of Transportation and Communications (now DOTr), LTO and LTFRB as respondents.
The petitioners argued that D.O No. 2008-39 and JAO No. 2014-01 are unconstitutional for being arbitrary, unreasonable, excessive, confiscatory and oppressive considering that the income of PUV drivers and operators ranged from P100 to P500 per day only.
According to them, the orders issued in violation of their constitutional right to due process and equal protection clause.
The petitioners also insisted that the orders are unconstitutional for being an invalid exercise of police power and for being vague and overbroad.
Prior to the filing of the petitions, Department order 2008-39 was declared unconstitutional by the Regional Trial Court of Baguio City based on the petition filed by Maria Basa Express Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association Inc. on behalf of its drivers who were apprehended for “out of line” and penalized under D.O No. 2008-39.
The trial court held that D.O No. 2008-39 was neither promulgated to be a disciplinary nor punitive measures in the exercise of police power but was intended to generate funds for government coffers.
The decision was appealed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) before the Court of Appeals (CA) but it was denied, prompting it to elevate the matter before the SC.
The OSG’s petition seeking the reversal of the CA and Baguio RTC’s rulings have been consolidated together with the petitions filed by the transport groups.
In ruling for the OSG’s petition, the SC declared that the CA erred in dismissing outright the petition of the government for being a wrong remedy.
The SC said the issues raised by the OSG have “far-reaching economic and policy implications” were sufficient for the CA to hear the government’s plea for the reversal of the Baguio RTC ruling.
“Judging from the amount of fees and its guiding principles which formed rationale for the fees and charges under D.O No. 2008-39, and as revisited in JAO No. 2014, this Court does not hesitate to rule that such fees and charges were principally put in place for regulatory and not for revenue purposes,” the SC said, in reversing the CA and Baguio RTC decisions.
The SC also stressed that the plea of transport groups to strike down the two orders on the ground of undue delegation of legislative power has no basis.
It held that the DOTC under Executive Order No. 125 issued by then President Corazon Aquino has been given power to establish and prescribe rules and regulations for the enforcement of laws governing land transportation, including penalties for violations.
The SC also noted that Administrative Code of 1987 or Executive Order No. 292 also conferred broad rule-making powers to the DOTC.
“This Court is more than convinced that D.O No. 2008-39 and JAO No. 2014-01 should not be stricken down as unconstitutional, not having issued with an unfettered discretion without any sufficient standard expressed by the delegating laws,” the SC held.
“After all, statutes conferring powers to administrative agencies are to be liberally construed to enable them to discharge their assigned duties in accordance with the legislative purpose,” it said.
Besides, the SC upheld the argument of the OSG that the assailed orders were validly issued pursuant to the police power of the State since operating motor vehicles is not “a natural and unrestrained right but a privilege” subject to regulations for public safety and interest.
The tribunal also emphasized that the fines and penalties under JAO No. 2014-01 cannot be considered oppressive and arbitrary but “reasonably necessary” for public safety and efficient public transportation.
It also noted that in less than a month after the implementation of JAO 2014-01, there were 6,962 new applications for the issuance of CPC to operate truck for hire services, bringing the total applicants of CPCs to 26, 570.
“The rules regulating land transportation designed for the safety and convenience of the riding public must be strictly complied with. Consequently, violations thereof should not be dismissed or slightly treated, lest they breed irreparable disasters,” the SC said.
The SC also noted that several public consultations were conducted before the implementation of D.O 2008-39 and JAO No. 2014-01 with various transport groups all over the country.
“The fact that drivers and operators are permitted to be heard belies claim that JAO No. 2014-01 is oppressive,” the high court said.