Thomas Orbos, the new general manager of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, eliminated the “window hours” of the number-coding prohibition—the five-hour period from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when the vehicle ban does not apply—over Edsa and C-5. The Orbos decree means that private vehicles are banned from these roads the whole day, once a week, depending on the last digit of the license plates of the vehicle concerned, even outside the morning and evening rush hours. His decree also covers Roxas Boulevard and the Alabang-Zapote Road.
Orbos claims that this extreme measure is necessary to decongest both highways.
The insufficient, dangerous, and inefficient public transportation system in Metropolitan Manila, a result of the six-year incompetence of the previous administration, has made private vehicle ownership in the metropolis a necessity rather than a luxury. This is particularly true for the disabled and senior citizens who cannot compete with other commuters seeking a ride to work, to school, or to go home.
Many private vehicle owners would rather use the public transportation system if it were efficient and safe, because private vehicle ownership is a more expensive option. Sadly, they have to resort to private vehicles just to get to work or to school on time, and in one piece.
Orbos, however, has chosen to expel taxpayers from the principal roadways of the metropolis one whole day a week, and to compel them to use the deplorable public transportation system —something Orbos has probably never experienced because, like other high-ranking government officials, he has several taxpayer-funded vehicles, all exempted from the number-coding regulation, at his disposal.
No MMDA traffic enforcer will stop vehicles bearing government plates, or low-numbered plates like the “8” used by congressmen, or the “10” and “16” used by officials of the judiciary and quasi-judicial agencies. Why is it that these government officials, who are supposed to be servants of the people, have special privileges which ordinary citizens do not enjoy?
Many vehicles roaming the streets of Metropolitan Manila even resort to “special plates” bearing intimidating labels like “Philippine National Police-PNP,” “National Bureau of Investigation,” and similar signages invoking privileged treatment. No MMDA traffic personnel will accost these vehicles for fear of being reprimanded.
A large percentage of operators of commuter vehicles rent “special plates” from PNP officials for use on the days their commuter vehicles are banned on the roadways. What a racket!
Instead of addressing these glaring anomalies involving special license plates, Orbos has opted to punish the ordinary citizen by eliminating the “window hours.” Indeed, Orbos is proving to be more incompetent than Francis Tolentino and Emerson Carlos, his predecessors in the MMDA.
In the end, the Orbos decree will keep vehicles off the major roadways, not because of the last digit of their license plates, but because many motorists who own only one vehicle do not have enough power, privilege, and political patronage to circumvent his decree.
Orbos may argue that his decree applies only to selected highways, and that there are other roads which motorists may use in lieu of Edsa and C-5. That flimsy argument ignores the fact that Edsa and C-5 are the only major roadways available to motorists from the south, especially by those from Las Piñas and Parañaque, who are headed for Quezon City. Traversing through Makati is not an option because the political dynasty running Binayland does not allow a “window period” over its city roads.
The Orbos decree is anti-middle class because wealthy families can afford to acquire more than one vehicle in order to circumvent the one-day ban—if one vehicle of the family is banned on a particular day, then another vehicle of the family, one with a different last digit on its license plates, can be used on that day. The middle class do not have that privilege.
Banning the vehicles of one-car families once a week, as the Orbos decree wishes to accomplish, may keep those cars off the major roads, but their absence from those roads only provides more room for the other vehicles owned by families which own more than one vehicle.
A “road-users tax” is imposed on every vehicle registered with the Land Transportation Office. With the Orbos decree in force, the “road-users tax” remains in force, but the taxpayer concerned is not allowed to use the roads. That’s a tax imposed on one whose right was restrained in the first place. Where is the fairness in that?
A right may be curtailed by the State when the curtailment is necessary to protect public health, public safety, or public welfare. That authority is called the police power of the State. According to the Supreme Court, the MMDA is devoid of police power. It has no legislative power, either. What then is the legal basis for the Orbos decree?
Local government ordinances purportedly authorizing the Orbos decree are not enough to validate the repressive measure. Edsa and C-5 are national roads. The adjective “national” obviously means that only Congress, through a legislative act, can impose limitations on the use of national roads.
The Orbos decree compels citizens to use the public transportation system once a week. Since the public transportation system is insufficient, unsafe, and inefficient, compelling citizens to use the public transportation system is tantamount to impairing their constitutional right to travel.
To all intents and purposes, therefore, the Orbos decree is devoid of legal justification. It is a patently arbitrary and whimsical act of a new MMDA general manager whose idea of managing vehicular traffic in Metropolitan Manila is to restrict the rights of taxpayers who pay for his salary and his office budget, and in whom sovereignty resides.
Public interest crusaders should consider taking legal action against Orbos and his oppressive decree in the courts, and in the Office of the Ombudsman. Cases in court ought to shake him back to his senses.