FINALLY, the Supreme Court steps into the no-contact apprehension policy (NCAP) issue. Just wondering why it took so long for the opponents of the NCAP to elevate the matter to the high court. Actually, I was even expecting them to seek an injunction, a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a cease and desist order from the court to stop its implementation when they first filed their opposition to the NCAP. Thankfully, it is now included in their petition.
Anyway, the high tribunal has directed the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the five local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila — Manila, Quezon City, Valenzuela, Parañaque and Muntinlupa — to comment on the petition filed by four transport groups against the alleged unconstitutionality of the NCAP.
Also, the LTO and the LGUs were ordered to justify why no TRO, injunction or cease and desist order should be issued by the Supreme Court to immediately stop the NCAP's enforcement.
The petitioners in the case — the Kilusan sa Pagbabago ng Industriya ng Transportasyon Inc., Pangkalahatang Sanggunian Manila and Suburbs Drivers Association Nationwide, Alliance of Transport Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines, and Alliance of Concerned Transport Organization — have argued that the implementation of the NCAP is unconstitutional and thus invalid.
The petitioners averred that the ordinances of the LGUs are in violation of the existing statutes, which do not establish, authorize and even mention any no-contact apprehension; that the wording of Republic Act 4136 is clear, any inclusion that include NCAP is void; that the NCAP implementation violates due process; that the NCAP provisions imposes unreasonable conditions that include non-renewal of the vehicle registration until such time that the fines are settled; and that the NCAP implementation makes innocent third persons liable for traffic violations.
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Lawyer Vigor Mendoza 2nd, lead counsel and head of Kapit, had said that the NCAP has no legal basis since it is not explicitly defined either in Republic Act (RA) 7924 (the MMDA law) and RA 4136. "At the time when the MMDA resolution was passed, there was no statute nor ordinance allowing the MMDA to augment traffic rules and regulations, to add or to expand the coverage of persons, other than the offending driver, who are liable for committing traffic violations," he said.
In my radio program last week — which I co-host with Jenni Munar, lawyer Tranquil Salvador and Diego Cagahastian — our guest panelist, lawyer Ariel Inton of the Lawyers for Commuters' Safety and Protection, stressed that the law provides that it should be the drivers who should be penalized for violation of traffic rules and regulations and not the registered owner.
With NCAP, the registered owner of the vehicle, even in instances when he or she had already disposed of it, is already considered a suspect for the traffic violation committed and thus, it becomes his or her responsibility to prove his or her innocence.
Further, Inton says the excessive fines, which come with every NCAP apprehension is illegal as the Constitution protects us from excessive and unreasonable penalties.
In my column last week, I also raised questions on the legality of the NCAP as it is my contention that this program technically privatizes traffic enforcement, and in the process, deputizes a private firm.
There's also the issue of sharing people's private information with a private firm. While I have no question regarding the LTO sharing our private information with LGUs, I don't think the same should apply with Qpax Traffic System Inc., the private service provider that the LGUs contracted for the NCAP.
Is the LTO allowed to do this without violating our right to privacy?
Now that the high court has stepped into the issue, and with lawmakers seeking to conduct a congressional probe in this regard, I hope that they deal not only with the issues discussed here, but also on the circumstances leading to the implementation of the NCAP.
Before the NCAP was implemented, there was no commercial entity that catered to this kind of business. Why would one put up a business that there is no need for? While MMDA had been implementing the policy before the LGUs, it already had its own system in place, and as such, there was no need for a private contractor. Again, there was no need for such a business.
Until the MMDA, under its former chairman now Rizal congressman Jojo Garcia, endorsed it to the LGUs. And the moment the first LGU accepted the NCAP program, Qpax was already on standby mode, ready to provide its services. It was as if it was anticipating its services would be required. For Qpax, it was just a matter of time before they would be called to action. A business just waiting in the wings. No different from a crocodile with only its bulging eyes protruding in the water, waiting for the opportune time to pounce on its prey.
And according to sources, it is only Qpax which provides this kind of service at present, thus understandably, it enjoys the monopoly of being the sole service provider of the LGUs for the NCAP.
Who are the people behind Qpax? No one knows. It is an IT-based company that doesn't maintain a website. Aside from its address and telephone number listed, we absolutely have no idea who is behind Qpax.
And this is where the Supreme Court and Congress could come into play. We expect them to dig deeper into this seemingly mysterious company which got lucky. It supposedly put up a business even at a time when there was no need for it, enabling them to corner the first contracts when they were finally made available.