TRO in effect in Metro Manila for beyond 5 months after oral arguments
The Supreme Court on Tuesday stopped the several cities in Metro Manila from carrying out the no-contact apprehension program (NCAP), which enables them to capture traffic violations using cameras and impose hefty fines on motorists.
During their regular en banc session, the SC justices voted to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against NCAP and pertinent ordinances issued by the local government units (LGUs) to implement the NCAP.
It also barred traffic authorities from making apprehensions under the NCAP programs until further orders from the Court.
The Court issued the order after it consolidated the petitions filed by several transport groups such as the Kilusan sa Pagbabago ng Industriya ng Transportasyon Inc. (KAPIT), Pangkalahatang Sagguniang Manila and Suburbs Drivers Association Nationwide (Pasang-Masda), Alliance of Transport Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (ALTODAP), and Alliance of Concerned Transport Organization (ACTO) and lawyer Juman B. Paa.
Paa’s petition questions the constitutionality of the NCAP being implemented by the Manila City government after he was forced to pay huge fines and penalties for four traffic violations (obstruction of the pedestrian lane) before he could register his vehicle.
The lawyer named the Manila City government and its Mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan as respondents.
The TRO comes two weeks after the Court told the respondents Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Land Transportation Office, the City of Manila, Quezon City, Valenzuela City, Paranaque City and Muntinlupa City to comment on the petitions filed against the program within 10 days.
SC Public Information Office chief and spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said the magistrates decided to set the petitions for oral arguments on Jan. 24, 2023 before deciding on the merit of the petitions.
Hosaka did not say why the Court would wait five months before hearing oral arguments.
The transport groups have assailed the legality of the NCAP, saying it has no basis either in the Republic Act 7924 that serves as the enabling charter of the MMDA or RA 4136, which created the LTO.
They added that the ordinances of the LGUs allowing NCAP are invalid since there are no existing laws passed by the Congress that allows the implementation of such regulation.
The petitioners argued that RA 4136 allows only face-to-face apprehension of traffic violators and that traffic violations are the liability of the erring drivers and not the registered owners.
The petitioners are also complaining against provisions of the NCAP, including the non-renewal of the vehicle registration until all fines are settled.
Paa, on the other hand, said Manila’s NCAP should be declared unconstitutional for being violative of the motorists’ constitutional right to due process; for being oppressive and confiscatory; and for violation of privacy rights under Republic Act 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012.
The petitioner noted that the NCAP lacks the technical capability to ensure that notices of violations are received by the motorists.
Paa also noted that the traffic fines and penalties being imposed by the Manila City government for obstruction of pedestrian lanes is 100 percent to 300 percent higher than the fines being imposed by the MMDA and LTO.
Besides, Paa said the 56 percent penalty imposed on the unpaid fines by the Manila City government is “unconscionable” compared to the legal interest of 12 percent.
The lawyer also asserted that NCAP violates the provisions of Data Privacy Act of 2021 as it can be used to conduct unlawful surveillance and monitoring of people’s movements by private individuals.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda on Tuesday welcomed the Supreme Court decision.
“There were obvious flaws of legality from the very start. Policing is not something that can be subject to PPP, or can be conducted without informing the citizen of his rights or allowing him or her adequate methods of redress. That violates due process,” Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, said.
He said the TRO would prevent the policy from doing any harm until its legality and constitutionality are resolved.
Salceda is principal author of House Bill 3423, which pushes for a Motorists’ Bill of Rights, including the right against arbitrary apprehension and the right to due process in traffic enforcement.
Rep. Marvin C. Rillo, vice chairman of the House committee on Metro Manila development, also welcomed the TRO.
“The temporary halt will compel local governments to rethink the way they are recklessly enforcing the NCAP at the expense of motorists,” he said.
“We would urge local governments to use the pause to conduct more extensive public consultations on the NCAP, and to heed the complaints and concerns of motorists,” Rillo added.
Rillo earlier filed House Resolution No. 237, which called for the suspension of the NCAP’s implementation.
Besides the MMDA, the cities of Manila, Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Quezon, and Valenzuela are enforcing the NCAP. San Juan City also recently signed an agreement to put the policy into effect.