April 21, 2018 at 12:30 am
Since President Rodrigo Duterte is in the mood to fire incompetent government officials, he should clean up the Metro Manila Development Authority and dismiss its chairman, ex-Colonel Danilo Lim.
Lim was one of three visible military officers who were involved in an unsuccessful coup attempt against then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The others were Antonio Trillanes IV, who is now a senator beholden to ex-President Benigno Aquino III and his cabal in the Liberal Party, and Nicanor Faeldon, the former Customs chief allegedly involved in a botched narcotics smuggling incident months ago.
Many motorists in the Pasig City area are complaining about a recent “carpool rule” currently being implemented by MMDA traffic enforcers during the daytime hours. According to the MMDA head office, this “carpool rule” prohibits private vehicles with less than four passengers from using certain lanes of Julia Vargas Avenue, a major thoroughfare connecting the EDSA Megamall area with the Valle Verde villages and the C-5 highway.
The details of this “carpool rule” are unclear, and it is precisely that ambiguity that paves the way for abuse and corruption on the part of MMDA traffic enforcers assigned to Julia Vargas Avenue.
Other questions arise. For instance, why was Julia Vargas Avenue selected? What was the basis for this selection?
The charter of the MMDA authorizes it to manage the traffic problem in the metropolis. That simply means assuring the continuous flow of vehicles in metropolitan roads. There is nothing in the MMDA charter which allows it to reduce the number of vehicles on the public roadways. The same charter likewise does not vest in the MMDA any power to regulate the number of passengers inside private vehicles using the roads of Metropolitan Manila.
From that perspective alone, the “carpool rule” hatched by the MMDA suffers from legal infirmity.
The foregoing argument notwithstanding, the MMDA cannot interfere with the number of passengers inside a private vehicle traversing metropolitan roads, even in the name of public welfare. That smacks of police power, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the MMDA has no police power.
In addition, the law protects the privacy of a motorist inside his private vehicle. Jurisprudence dictates that indiscriminate searches of private vehicles even at police checkpoints in the streets are illegal for being in violation of the Constitution.
Following that line of argument, there is good reason to argue that state interference with the number of passengers inside a private vehicle violates the constitutional right of privacy of every motorist. Thus, who a motorist wants inside his private vehicle, and how many passengers he wants inside his vehicle, are essentially none of the state’s business.
When Tim Orbos was still the general manager of the MMDA, he thought of a screwball scheme to restrict the use of Edsa by private vehicles on the basis of the number of passengers inside the vehicles. His plan included requiring private vehicles to remove the tint on their windshields and windows to enable MMDA traffic enforcers to count the number of passengers inside the vehicles.
The Orbos scheme drew a lot of public criticism, including angry commentaries in the news media. It was condemned for being a violation of the constitutional right of privacy of motorists.
It was also pointed out by critics of the Orbos scheme that car windshield and window tints are essential for the protection of the passengers from the intense heat of the tropical sun during the daylight hours.
Fortunately, the Orbos scheme was never implemented because President Duterte fired him as MMDA general manager. Unfortunately, Orbos remains an underling at the Department of Transportation and Communications, as reported in the news media.
The last time the state prohibited the use of tints on vehicle windshields and window was during the first year of martial law in the Philippines. It is a prohibition identified with authoritarian rule.
Going back to the main discussion, another argument against the “carpool rule” is the Road User’s Tax, which is imposed on every registered owner of a motor vehicle, each time the vehicle is registered. The tax is for the right of the motorist to use the roads. Since this tax is imposed uniformly on all vehicles of the same grade regardless of the number of passengers who will be riding on the vehicles, the restriction under the MMDA “carpool rule” becomes an unreasonable restriction.
The law also requires that to be valid and enforceable, agency rules must be published in a newspaper of general circulation, and a copy of the rule should be deposited with the national register of the University of the Philippines Law Center. So far, there is no record of the MMDA “carpool rule” having been duly published, and no copy of it appears to be in the national register.
If such is the status of the “carpool rule,” then it cannot be validly implemented by MMDA traffic enforcers. If they insist on enforcing it, then all affected motorists should sue the MMDA chief together with the MMDA enforcers concerned in appropriate criminal and administrative proceedings before the Office of the Ombudsman.
The problem with the MMDA leadership is that it resorts to outright restriction, without exploring other less restrictive measures, to address the traffic problem in Metropolitan Manila.
Instead of getting rid of chokepoints along EDSA, and instead of preventing slow moving vehicles from using any lane along EDSA as they please, the MMDA chooses to ban vehicles for practically any inordinate reason.
It’s easy for the MMDA to ban vehicles and to resort to restricting the use of private cars. That’s because MMDA officials are exempted from their own restrictions. It is an open secret among motorists that MMDA traffic enforcers look the other way when vehicles of politicians and government officials, including those with license plates bearing the names of the Philippine National Police and its derivative nomenclature, are used in violation of traffic regulations.