Racketeering in Government
- Lester Dizon () - December 9, 2009 - 12:00am

Last November, my wife Shawie went to a Land Transportation Office (LTO) kiosk at the SM City North EDSA in Quezon City to renew her driver’s license. She took the required drug test, had her picture taken, and went through the prerequisite procedures. While waiting to pay for the renewal fee, she felt that the mall-based LTO kiosks were an excellent idea that brings convenience to the motoring public.

Unfortunately, her elation was short-lived because when she was called to the window, she was instructed by the teller to proceed to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in Guadalupe to settle an alleged traffic violation before the LTO can renew her license. She was handed a computer-generated MMDA Apprehension print-out showing her name and license number with the following information:

MTT Number              :      M0418900331

Apprehension Date   :     05/08/09

Violation(s)               :        226 – Unclassified

Another female driver, who was renewing her license at the same time as my wife, was also informed that she had to go to the MMDA to settle her traffic violation. The lady was visibly irate at the LTO personnel and asked, “How could have I committed this traffic violation when I’ve been abroad for the past year?”

My wife just smirked at the piece of paper that she was holding. The alleged violation did not give specific descriptions and the nature of the violation, the place of the violation and the identity of the apprehending officer. It was a half-sheet of paper that was simply compelling her to inconveniently waddle through heavy traffic to go to the MMDA Head Office in Guadalupe to “settle” a questionable penalty.

For one, how could she commit a traffic violation on that date when she was attending to her duties as the co-organizer of the 15th Annual Motorcycle Convention of the National Federation of Motorcycle Clubs of the Philippines, Inc. (NFMCPI) that was held at the Baguio Convention Center (BCC) in Baguio City? Unless the MMDA was operating in Baguio City, which they’re not, she couldn’t have been cited because she stayed there from May 6th to 11th for the preparation, execution and commencement of the said bike convention.

Besides, she wasn’t driving around Baguio – she was driven to and from the convention center. In fact, on the alleged date of the traffic violation, she was at the BCC all day with 3,000 bikers as witnesses, including DOTC Assistant Secretary and MRT General Manager Gen. Reynaldo Berroya, Presidential Commission on the Peace Process adviser Gen. Fernando Pace, Philippine Ports Authority Engineer Bobby Fariñas, and Motorcycle Philippines Federation directors Atoy Sta. Cruz and Jojo Medina. And everything was documented in the print and video media.

Since we couldn’t make heads or tails of “Violation 226-Unclassified”, my wife went to our friend, Engineer Joel Donato of the LTO for clarification. Sir Joel, as we fondly call him, promptly called up the MMDA and was told that the violation was “Reckless Driving and Driving on the Yellow Lane” and that it was cited using the “No Contact” traffic violator apprehension procedure. Sir Joel’s MMDA contact did not give specifics on where the alleged traffic violation took place and who the apprehending officer was.

My wife just chuckled on how she could be charged with driving our small economy car recklessly against the more reckless bus drivers on the yellow lanes. It’s like letting your little Chihuahua run with Dobermans and get trampled on. She also laughed at the idea of MMDA yellow bus lanes suddenly popping up at the Baguio Convention Center, or on the mountain roads of Baguio, for that matter.

But aside from making her laugh, it did raise more questions than answers.

For instance, how did the “No Contact” apprehension system get my wife’s name and driver’s license number? Did they just get it by accessing the LTO database and playing “Eenee-Meenee-Miney-Moe”? The car she drives is still registered under the dealer’s name with a Deed of Sale under my name (Sorry, I hadn’t had the time to transfer the ownership) and I, nor the dealer, hadn’t received any inquiries from MMDA asking who was driving that car at the alleged day of the violation.

Did the apprehending officer take a digital photo of the car with my wife driving it and then hooked it up to their computer system, which used an advanced and sophisticated face-recognition software that sorted through millions of LTO driver’s licenses to identify her as the traffic violator? I don’t think so. However, in case I’m wrong and the MMDA does have that sophisticated computer system, I’d like to see it. But it should be working in Baguio, because that’s where my wife was during the alleged date.

The sad part was when one of Sir Joel’s guest during my wife’s visit remarked, “Magkakano ba yung penalty? Baka P700 lang ‘yan, bayaran mo na lang. Hindi ka pa maaabala. (How much is the penalty? If it’s just P700, why don’t you just pay it and get it over with so you won’t be inconvenience any further.)”

Have we Filipinos been reduced to this? Are we that lazy and stupid that we will just bow to the whims of the people in power just not to be inconvenienced? Are we just supposed to pay up and not to ask questions even when some people in this government are obviously violating our rights?

True, the penalty amount is paltry compared to the inconvenience and the unproductive man-hours going to MMDA, waiting in line and contesting the alleged traffic violation, but by paying the fine without really getting to the truth, we are allowing the unscrupulous public servants to continue their nefarious activities. Further, the manner by which alleged traffic violators are blackmailed to “settle” with the MMDA before their license is renewed by the LTO, which is a distinct and separate government agency, is a disservice to the road users because this practice smacks of an organized racketeering activity.

If 1.7 million registered drivers in the National Capitol Region (NCR), where the MMDA is authorized to enforce traffic regulations, would just pay P700 without questioning the authenticity of the traffic violation, that would sum up to P1.19 billion pesos! And that’s not counting the drivers from the provinces and the lagay or grease money that many drivers shell out to the fixers inside the MMDA just to have their transactions processed quicker.

In the same vein, if the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system of the LTO wasn’t questioned and its mandatory implementation suspended, it would have forced 5.9 million vehicle owners to pay P350 for a microchip that has questionable performance and intrinsic values. The LTO would stand to collect more than P2.065 billion pesos that would probably end up in some dirty politicians’ pockets. For use in the upcoming elections, of course, just like the Road User’s Tax.

Even though the RFID is now being implemented on a “voluntary” basis (Yes, the RFID is NOT mandatory. You can choose not to pay P350!), many unscrupulous LTO branches are telling uninformed vehicle owners that they have to pay the additional RFID fee or the renewal of their car registration will not be processed. I can only wonder how many car owners have been duped.

What a racket! Some of our government agencies really make organized criminal groups look like boy scouts.

I feel it’s high time that we elect a President, and several members of Congress and the Senate who would spearhead the creation and strict implementation of a law equivalent to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as RICO Act, which is a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.

While it was initially intended to prosecute the US-based Mafia as well as others who were actively engaged in organized crime, its application has been more widespread. In June 1984, the Key West Police Department in Monroe County, Florida was declared a “criminal enterprise” under the Federal RICO statutes after a lengthy United States Department of Justice investigation found several high-ranking officers, including Deputy Police Chief Raymond Cassamayor, running a protection racket for illegal cocaine smugglers.

Two of the RICO predicate acts are extortion and blackmail, which some of our government agencies are practicing, albeit legally, on our long suffering countrymen. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which of our government agencies can be declared as “criminal enterprises” because of their obvious racketeering activities.

Let’s stand up for our rights and purge our government of career racketeers! This is, after all, a government of the people, by the people and for the people and NOT just for a select group of elected and appointed thieves masquerading as public servants. It’s time we got rid of them and the upcoming elections can be our best tool! Let’s choose wisely!

From James Deakin’s “avoiding the road to perdition”, we only have space for one Backseat Driver reaction this week. We made sure it’s one that is filled with substance…

Thank you, Mr. Deakin, for bringing this up again. I agree with everything you said. Being a motorist myself, I fear for my own life knowing that Ivlers are out there to get me just because “trip lang nila”. Ivler had done this four (?) years ago, and did it again this year. If he is left roaming freely, what will stop him from doing it again? What if his next victim is me? I dread the thought. – kirei816

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