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Sunday, July 21, 2024

SC tosses out plea assailing PUVMP for petitioner’s lack of legal standing

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The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed a petition filed by a jeepney drivers’ and operators’ group challenging the constitutionality of a provision in the controversial public utility vehicle modernization program (PUVMP) on procedural issues.

Meanwhile, the SC invalidated provisions of ordinances by local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila allowing their respective traffic enforcers to issue traffic violation receipts and confiscate driver’s licenses.

“A permanent injunction is hereby issued to enjoin respondent local government units from further issuing ordinance violation receipts; and confiscating licenses through their own traffic enforcers, unless they are deputized by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA),” the court said in its 42-page decision uploaded March 4 and penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

In a 20-page en banc decision dated July 11, 2023, but made public only last Mar. 4, the SC junked the petition filed by the transport group Bayyo Association Incorporated led by its president Anselmo Perweg for lack of legal standing and for violating the hierarchy of the courts.

“The Court finds that the petitioners do not possess the requisite legal standing to file this suit. At the outset, Bayyo did not submit any proof to support its claim that it is a legitimate association of PUJ operators and drivers,” the SC ruling stated.

“While it attached a Certificate of Registration issued by the SEC, the same merely proves its registration as an association, but does not establish that its members are indeed PUJ operators and drivers,” stated the SC decision penned by Associate Justice Maria Filomena Singh.

“Accordingly, due to the absence of Bayyo’s Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws or any other competent proof, the Court cannot ascertain its legal standing as an association of PUJ operators and drivers.

Even if such were not the case, Bayyo still failed to establish who its members are and that it has been duly authorized by said members to institute the Petition,” the verdict read.

The SC, citing the case of the Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines. vs. the Department of Labor and Employment, explained that it is insufficient to simply allege that the petitioners therein are associations that represent their members, but they should establish who their members are and that their members authorized them to sue on their behalf.

“While Bayyo submitted a Secretary’s Certificate, the same only proves the authority of its President to file the Petition on behalf of the association, not its members. The same is insufficient to establish that Bayyo or its President, Perweg, were specifically authorized by the members to institute the present action,” the SC said.

The high tribunal stressed that in view of the petitioners’ lack of legal standing and their disregard of the doctrine of hierarchy of courts, it will not delve into the merits of the substantive arguments raised in the petition.

As to Perweg’s claim that he filed the case as a citizen and taxpayer, the SC held that taxpayers’ suits can only claim that if it is predicated on an allegation that public funds are illegally disbursed or that public money is being deflected to any improper purpose, or that public funds are wasted through the enforcement of an invalid or unconstitutional law.

“Here, the petitioners cannot invoke standing as taxpayers considering that paragraph 5.2 of DO No. 2017-011 does not involve the disbursement of public funds. More glaringly, a closer examination of

the Petition reveals that there is no allegation of any illegal expenditure of public funds. Thus, the case cannot qualify as a taxpayer’s suit,’ the SC ruled.

The petitioners questioned the legality of paragraph 5.2 of Department of Transportation (DOTr) Order 2017-11, which states that PUV drivers must shift to the use of brand new and “environmentally friendly” units under the modernization program of public utility vehicles.

They argued that the phase-out of the “traditional” jeepneys was discriminatory, as the petitioners pointed out the differential treatment between jeepneys and other public utility vehicles.

As to the alleged confiscatory or discriminatory nature of the assailed DoTr order, the SC said these are matters best left to be settled in the lower courts as the high court is not a trier of facts.

“The Court cannot simply rely on the bare and unsubstantiated allegations of the petitioners as to the supposed adverse effects of the assailed DO No. 2017-011 on the livelihood of PUJ operators and

drivers. These factual issues should have been first brought before the proper trial courts or the Court of Appeals, both of which are specially equipped to try and resolve factual questions,” the SC said.

“It is well to remember that the Court is not a trier of facts. Whether in its original or appellate jurisdiction, this Court is not equipped to receive and weigh evidence in the first instance. When litigants bypass the hierarchy of courts, the facts they claim before the Court are incomplete and disputed,” the SC said.

“Bypassing the judicial hierarchy requires more than just raising issues of transcendental importance. Without first resolving the factual disputes, it will remain unclear if there was a direct injury, or if there was factual concreteness and adversariness to enable this Court to determine the parties’ rights and obligations, “it added.

Another petition was filed before the SC by the militant transport group PISTON and its allied organization in December 2023 which also questioned the PUV consolidation and modernization program.

The SC has yet to rule on the petition.

Last January, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. extended the PUV consolidation deadline to April 30 amid strong opposition from some transport groups.

At least 11 transport groups filed before the Court of Appeals in 2006, claiming that different citations from the MMDA and the LGUs are confusing because some quarters do not recognize the tickets issued by the LGUs or the MMDA.

While the case was pending in 2012, a resolution by the MMDA Metro Manila Council (MMC) then adopted a uniform ticketing system and established a system of interconnectivity among the LGUs involved in transport and traffic management in Metro Manila.

In December of that year, the appellate court dismissed the suit, prompting the petitioners to elevate the case to the high tribunal.

The tribunal, in its ruling, said traffic management in the LGUs is covered by the MMDA Law.

“The Court thus declares as invalid the common provision in the said traffic codes or ordinances of the LGUs in Metro Manila empowering each of them to issue OVR (ordinance violation receipts) to erring drivers and motorists,” the SC said.

It added that the measure does not undermine the autonomy of the LGUs, noting that “their interests are amply protected by the very structure of the MMDA as established by the MMDA Law.”

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