SC suspends, resets to January 24 NCAP oral arguments

Neil Jayson Servallos - The Philippine Star
SC suspends, resets to January 24 NCAP oral arguments
Motorists ply the northbound lane of EDSA in Pasay City before dawn on Aug. 14, 2022. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) will reimplement their number coding scheme in the morning, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., starting August 15 to help decongest traffic along EDSA during rush hour.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Oral arguments for the no-contact apprehension policy (NCAP) of local governments in Metro Manila have been suspended until next year by the Supreme Court (SC), possibly extending the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the policy pending a new decision.

Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo adjourned the session last Tuesday with only Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao having interpellated the representatives of transport groups, and asked the petitioners to file additional documents, including notices of violation.

The oral arguments will resume on Jan. 24, 2023, with the court not issuing any resolution or directive as far as the TRO on the NCAP’s implementation is concerned.

During the session, the respondents raised several grounds as to why the NCAP violates the Constitution and overreaches some laws involving
 traffic and privacy and should therefore be scrapped.

“The questioned ordinances were issued with grave abuse of discretion as it contravenes the Constitution and existing statutes which prejudice the rights of the petitioners,” lawyer Greg Pua Jr., who represents transport groups assailing NCAP, said.

Aside from this, the respondents also raised the “excessiveness” of the fines being imposed against violators of traffic rules in Metro Manila.

“Further, the excessiveness of the fines and penalties imposed under the NCAP warrants the declaration of its invalidity as ruled by this honorable court – a regulatory fee must not produce revenue in excess of the cost of regulation because such fee will be construed as an illegal tax when the revenue generated by the regulation exceeds the regulation,” Pua said.

Lawyer Juman Paa, who filed a petition after he was fined P20,000 by the City of Manila for supposed NCAP violations, also questioned how the local governments’ traffic systems and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) have been flagging owners and operators of vehicles instead of those who are driving them.

Paa said a law should first be passed to make this practice legal.

In response to the respondents’ petitions, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, who represents all government respondents, said the local government units (LGUs) implementing the NCAP have the right to enact ordinances for such traffic measures pursuant to their police power under the Local Government Code.

Respondents in one of the TROs are the city of Manila, Quezon City, Valenzuela, Parañaque, Muntinlupa and the LTO.

The other TRO has the Sangguniang Panglungsod ng Manila and Mayor Honey Lacuna as respondents.

On privacy issues in which petitioners decried how LGUs can access vehicle registration data and how violators’ personal data can supposedly be accessed on government websites by simply entering vehicle details like plates, this arrangement may not be challenged, according to Guevarra.

“NCAP cameras capture vehicle images that violate traffic rules and regulations. They are neither designed to capture, nor are these cameras capable of obtaining, facial recognition images of the drivers. This fact attenuates and weakens petitioners’ claim of violation of their right to privacy,” he said.

“Moreover, petitioners have not established an expectation of privacy while exercising the privilege of openly using vehicles in public roads. More importantly, the sharing by the LTO of vehicle registration data with the local governments involves information necessary to carry out functions of public authorities,” he added.

The SC, in full session, earlier stopped the LTO and five local governments from enforcing NCAP, saying it issued the TROs without giving due course to the petitions yet.

While the sessions have been adjourned until next year, local governments are still asking the SC to lift the TRO on the NCAP.

Once the justices pick up where they left off, the arguments will resume with Dimaampao interpellating Guevarra.

The NCAP is a road safety and traffic management program being implemented by the local governments of Manila, Parañaque, Quezon City, San Juan and Valenzuela as well as along EDSA by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

The measure has been met with widespread opposition from public utility vehicle operators and private vehicle owners due to its stiff fines and the lack of stoplight countdown timers in cities that have resulted in multiple violations.

Numerous transport groups and even the LTO, which processes the fines attributable to registered vehicles and drivers, have called on the mayors to suspend the policy while its guidelines remain unpolished and traffic infrastructure is insufficient to properly implement the program.

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