Using vehicles on public roads is “nothing more than a privilege” that can be subject to regulation, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra has said in justifying the “no physical contact apprehension policy” (NCAP) of some local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila.
Guevarra defended before the Supreme Court the ordinances of Valenzuela, Parañaque, Muntinlupa, Quezon City, and Manila, which allowed traffic enforcers to apprehend traffic violators through using closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and impose fines based on the captured images.
Three groups of petitioners challenged these measures before the High Court, claiming, among others, violations of their constitutional rights to due process and privacy.
The SolGen questioned whether they could even bring their petition before the SC in the first place in the absence of a right or of a clear actual or threatened injury of that right — a key requirement, according to Guevarra, before the SC can entertain petitions filed before it.
Citing the 2015 SC case of MMDA vs. Garin, he said there can be no violation of a right that does not exist.
The oral argument on the petitions will continue on January 24, 2023.
The OSG also assured motorists that the enforcement of the NCAP will not violate their privacy rights under Republic Act 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012.
Disputing the petitions filed by several transport groups and lawyer Juman Pa assailing the constitutionality of NCAP, Guevarra stressed that while NCAP cameras capture vehicle images that violate traffic rules and regulations, these cameras are neither designed nor capable of obtaining facial recognition of the drivers.
“This fact attenuates and weakens petitioners’ claim of violation of their right to privacy,” the chief state lawyer stressed.
According to Guevarra, in assessing any claim of violation of privacy rights by the State, the Court has always examined whether the person claiming violation of such right has shown reasonable expectation of privacy and, if so, whether the expectation has been violated by unreasonable government intrusion.
In this case, Guevarra argued that the petitioners failed to establish an expectation of privacy while exercising the privilege of openly using vehicles in public roads.
The petitioners argued 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.
The petitioners said the sharing of registration database of LTO with the local government unit without the consent of data subjects, violates Sections 12 (Criteria for Lawful Processing of Personal Information) and 13 (Sensitive Personal Information and Privileged Information) of the Data Privacy Act of 2012.
But Guevarra explained that the sharing by the LTO of vehicle registration data with the LGUs involves information “necessary to carry out the functions of public authorities.”
“It is therefore a sharing of personal information which is expressly excluded from the coverage of the Data Privacy Act,” Guevarra stressed.
Guevarra also pointed out the failure of the petitioners to elevate their concern of data privacy violation before the National Privacy Commission (NPC) should be a ground to deny the petitioners’ claim of violation of their right to privacy.
The Solicitor General also downplayed petitioners’ argument that Republic Act 4136, which created the Land Transportation Office (LTO), allows only face-to-face apprehension of traffic violators and that traffic violations are liability of the erring drivers and not the registered owners.
He said NCAP ordinances precisely require notification of the registered owner as a means of identifying and discovering the violator of the law.
“These ordinances mandate the notification of the registered vehicle owner so that he may contest his presumed liability and, where applicable, adduce evidence identifying the actual driver of the vehicle who committed the traffic violation,” Guevarra said.
“This mechanism not only affords the notified party of his due process rights. It also implements the very purpose for which the registered owner rule was established,” he added.
Guevarra also pointed out that the SC has held in several cases that “registered owner is considered the employer, and the negligent driver, his agent, for purposes of ascribing liability.”
The chief state lawyer also argued that the power of local government units to promulgate ordinances to address traffic concerns “is beyond dispute” and “subject only to the requirement that it does not violate any national law and policy.”
“The NCAP ordinances – which establish a system for the capture of the traffic violations and the subsequent identification of the owners of the vehicles involved in such violation for the purpose of ultimately identifying the offending driver – do not in any way contravene any national law or policy,” Guevarra said.
Last August 30, the SC decided to indefinitely enjoin the implementation of NCAP as sought by several petitioners — Kilusan sa Pagbabago ng Industriya ng Transportasyon Inc. (KAPIT), Pangkalahatang Sangguniang 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 Paa.