THE Supreme Court has frozen the no contact apprehension program, or NCAP, in Metro Manila until January.
The court issued a restraining order against the five cities which have been implementing their own NCAP. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said it too will temporarily suspend its NCAP.
A transport group and a lawyer who was fined P20,000 for traffic violations monitored through the NCAP had challenged the traffic management system before the Supreme Court, arguing that it denied apprehended violators the chance to contest the violation and penalizes the registered vehicle owners, not the drivers.
delivered to your inbox
The court's decision provides a welcome pause to the spirited debate over the NCAP.
The system itself is not in question; it has proved to be highly effective in instilling road discipline in countries like the United States, Singapore, Korea, India and Malaysia.
On paper, the NCAP is a technological boon to traffic management.
High-resolution cameras are linked to an automated recognition system that reads the plate number of an erring vehicle. The registered owner is tracked down using the Land Transportation Office's (LTO) database.
Once the owner is verified, a notice of violation (NoV) is digitally created and sent through mail or courier service.
The owner has, upon receipt of NoV, seven days to either pay the fine or contest the apprehension.
Among the common violations caught through the NCAP are counterflow driving, disobeying traffic signals and signs, driving over the speed limit and reckless driving.
Basically, the NCAP was designed to take a big load off the shoulders of traffic enforcers. It is also seen as a way to reduce corruption since motorists cannot bribe their way out of a traffic citation.
The cities of Manila, Quezon, Valenzuela, Parañaque and Muntinlupa and the MMDA were convinced that the NCAP is worth investing in, and had set up their individual systems.
And here is where the flaws begin to surface. The fines imposed by the cities and the MMDA vary widely. That's because the cities base their penalties on a joint administrative order issued by the Department of Transportation and Communications in 2014, before the NCAP was conceived.
A motorist apprehended for reckless driving, for example, has to pay the MMDA P750, but as much as P2,000 if the violation is logged in a particular city.
LTO Chief Assistant Secretary Teofilo Guadiz 3rd agrees that the fines levied by the Metro Manila cities "are much much higher. Maybe [if] we could harmonize this, there would be lesser complaints."
In its petition to the Supreme Court, the transport group said the fines were "excessive and inhumane." It also contends that under the NCAP, the burden of disproving a violation shifts to the vehicle owner from the driver.
Vince Pornelos, editor in chief of the AutoIndustriya.com, sees technical weaknesses as well.
"Some would argue that a CCTV camera sees all, but that's not true," Pornelos writes. "A camera shows you a two-dimensional view of what's going on, and the people manning the monitors only have road markings to go by or traffic signals to base their decisions on. And in a country where the lines and signs change seemingly at will (like when the government decided to slice a lane meant for a car to dedicate a space for bicycles) that's a problem."
Proponents of the NCAP attest that it has helped change the behavior of motorists who are now keenly aware that an array of cameras is watching them. One NCAP fan has even suggested that NCAPs be installed nationwide.
Again, nothing is wrong with the NCAP. Guadiz agrees that it is "a noble, timely and necessary action that will help realize the objective of digitalizing government services through technology. But just like any other policy, implementation will always be a key issue, and putting the policy into practice should be based on the tenets of the law."
The Supreme Court's restraining order provides the hiatus for government officials and stakeholders to sit down and come up with ways to fine-tune the workings of the NCAP.