There’s going to be very bad news indeed for motorists particularly if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the constitutionality of the no-contact apprehension policy (NCAP) implemented by the Metro Manila Development Authority along EDSA and the local governments of Manila, Quezon City, Caloocan, San Juan, and Valenzuela in their respective areas of jurisdiction.
That would mean a minimum fine of P2,000 for the first offense and as much as P5,000 for succeeding traffic violations that could include beating the red light, disregarding traffic signs and lane markings, and so on.
The NCAP is supposed to instill discipline among motorists and minimize contact between traffic enforcers and traffic violators that could lead to bribery or extortion.
Moreover, it is supposed to ensure smooth traffic flow in crowded city thoroughfares since motorists would think twice or even thrice before abruptly changing lanes, over-speeding or engaging in reckless driving.
In other words, keep traffic in city streets flowing smoothly during rush hours and even in the wee hours of the morning when the all-seeing closed-circuit television systems are still able to record traffic violations with unblinking precision.
That rationale looks fine and dandy on the surface.
But it upends basic principles enshrined in our Constitution, such as due process of law and the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.
The Supreme Court resumed last Tuesday the oral arguments on the NCAP issue, with Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra representing the respondents for the government.
During a hearing last December, the petitioners said the NCAP should be scrapped as it violates the Constitution and overreaches some laws involving traffic and the privacy of the motorists.
“The traffic scheme was issued with grave abuse of discretion as it contravenes the Constitution and existing statutes, which prejudices the rights of the petitioners,” they averred.
The petitioners also slammed the excessive fines imposed on traffic violators: “The fines imposed under the NCAP warrant the declaration of its invalidity. A regulatory fee must not produce revenue in excess of the cost of regulation because such fee will be construed as an illegal tax.”
A lawyer also filed a petition before the SC after he was fined P20,000 by the city government of Manila for a traffic infraction.
He questioned how the local government’s traffic scheme and the Land Transportation Office have been accosting owners and operators of vehicles instead of those who are driving them.
One operator of a taxicab fleet owes at least a million pesos in fines because her drivers racked up violations caught by the CCTV cameras.
Solicitor General Guevarra said the LGUs implementing the NCAP have the right to enact ordinances on traffic measures pursuant to their police power under the Local Government Code.
The implementation of the NCAP has been suspended since the issuance of a temporary restraining order by the SC in August last year.
The NCAP is actually implemented by private service provider QPax Traffic Systems Inc., which gets up to 70 percent share of the fines collected from the scheme.
The scheme has drawn much from public utility vehicle operators and private vehicle owners due to excessive fines imposed even for minor violations.
Did the MMDA and LGUs bother to open the scheme to public bidding?
I totally agree that NCAP is unconstitutional and should be scrapped.
I experienced the no-contact apprehension scheme first-hand in the city of Manila last April, when I received a Notice of Violation from the Manila Traffic and Parking Bureau telling me that I had to pay P2,000 for disregarding lane markings and proceeding to turn left at Taft Avenue from Pedro Gil St. from the middle lane, where vehicles should go straight.
I decided to contest the Notice of Violation because the video clearly showed that the leftmost lane of Pedro Gil St. going to Taft Avenue was occupied by four tricycles and a passenger jeepney that were obviously waiting for passengers at the time.
When I submitted the letter to City Hall contesting the violation, I noticed that there were many others waiting in line at the MTPB office.
I was told to attend a hearing by an Adjudication Officer one month later.
I dutifully showed up before the Adjudication Officer on the day of the hearing.
It didn’t take him a minute to read my letter of explanation and to look at the video evidence to dismiss the case outright for lack of merit.
I don’t think those who signed the Notice even bothered to look at the video because that would have shown that the leftmost lane was occupied by five other vehicles waiting for passengers.
Many netizens have openly criticized the traffic scheme. They have been urging LGUs to install 21st century digital traffic lights that indicate how many minutes remain for green lights to turn to amber and red instead of the antiquated ones with no digital numbers.
This, they said, stacks the cards against motorists and allows the government to demand hefty fines from them without due process.
Sure, you can contest the violation but you have to go through a lot of inconvenience going to City Hall, lining up for hours so that you can explain yourself before traffic authorities.
Many, I think, simply cough up the fines imposed so they can avoid all the hassle.
The lesson here is this: NCAP, by “convicting” the offender on the basis of video evidence and demanding payment of exorbitant fines for minor traffic infractions, appears to me as nothing less than plain and simple extortion.