The Supreme Court on Tuesday wrapped up oral arguments on the petition assailing the constitutionality of the controversial “No Contact Traffic Apprehension Policy” being imposed by several local government units in Metro Manila.
Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo earlier said the resolution of the issues pertaining to the implementation of the NCAP is one of the cases that the 15-member bench would be prioritizing this year since the petition concerned public interest.
Gesmundo gave the parties in the petition 30 days to submit respective memoranda to amplify their arguments, after which, the petition is deemed submitted for resolution.
During the continuation of the oral arguments on Tuesday, Associate Justice Samuel Gaerlan shared his bad experience as one of those who was forced to pay penalties for the traffic violations committed by his driver in Parañaque City before he can file a complaint to question the violations.
Gaerlan narrated that his driver was caught beating the red light in a certain location several times through the NCAP.
He, however, said the traffic lights in the area have no digital features that could forewarn drivers when to proceed and when to stop.
Since traffic in the area is usually heavy, Gaerlan said a traffic aide from the barangay would usually signal motorists to proceed, without regard to the traffic lights.
Thus, there were instances that his driver was caught through the camera beating the red light.
The SC magistrate lamented it is the registered owner of the vehicle who has to shoulder the fines or contest the violation and not the one actually driving the vehicle.
Lawyer Pancho Vasquez, who represented the Paranaque City government in the oral arguments, told the justices that traffic violations can be appealed before the traffic adjudication board.
“If it can be established that the violation was committed with the participation of the traffic enforcer it is usually being reconsidered,” Vasquez said.
While traffic violations can be appealed, Justice Gaerlan pointed out that it seems easier said than done.
“That is easy to say but in reality if you go there, because I personally went there, they will compel you to pay first. So, what you will do is just pay the fines,” Gaerlan said.
The justice also complained about the exorbitant fines being imposed by LGUs.
He said the fines imposed may not pose a problem to people like him who are earning somewhat well, but it will be a burden to ordinary drivers or workers.
The SC justice also questioned the legal basis of the fines or penalties being enforced by the NCAP and if the LGUs implementing the policy have uniform enforcement.
“What I’m trying to drive at is about the process. In general NCAP is a good program, I have no question on the nobility of the law or of the regulation except on the process, that is where I’m having a problem,” Gaerlan said.
Gaerlan also suggested to LGUs of requiring the program service provider to come up with a technology that would identify the driver of the vehicle caught violating traffic rules instead of the owner.
For his part, Associate Justice Justice Mario Lopez also asks the basis of the violations being upheld by the NCAP, specifically in Quezon City.
Lawyer Carlo Lopez Austria of the Quezon City local government said they base the penalties from their city’s traffic code.
Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, who is representing the MMDA and the LTO in the oral arguments, said there is no constitutional violation committed if the LGUs would have different applications of the law as long as the requisites of an ordinance are met.
Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao, on the other hand, questioned the 6o to 70 share that the NCAP service provider QPAX Traffic Systems Inc. is getting out of the fines collected by the LGUs from traffic violators.
“It would appear that the bulk of the collection that comes from fines and penalties, the contractor QPAX receives more than that of the share that goes to LGUs involved. What do you think, is this not a clear violation of this fundamental principle of local government taxation or Section 130 (b) of the Local Government Code?” Dimaampao said.
Guevarra told the justices that Section 130 (b) refers to taxation revenue raising measures of the LGUS which provides that all revenues should accrue to the benefit of the LGUs.
“NCAP is not a revenue raising measure. It is not a tax. It is a regulatory fee pursuant to the police power delegated to the LGUs. Not taxation but police power. So in that sense since this is not, we are not talking taxes but regulatory fees and all of these regulatory fees go to a certain trust funds, and according to the local government code all money going to these trust funds may only be spent for specific purpose for which the trust fund was created and precisely the NCAP trust fund, so that the necessary expenses for the application and implementation of NCAP can be met including the services rendered by the private contractor,” Guevarra said.