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Opinion

Caught in money-making camera

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

At the first Cabinet meeting at Malacañang Palace, newly installed President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. explicitly asked them to ensure they are all working in synch with each other. That was how President Marcos summed up his strings of instructions and directives to all Cabinet team appointed on Day One of his administration.

During the press conference that followed the Palace meeting, reporters asked President Marcos what were his “marching orders” to the new heads he appointed to the various Executive Departments. Initially, the President grappled for words to explain succinctly how the various activities of the government “interconnect” with each other. His worst critics even attacked his stuttered response in memes that went viral in social media.

As he had declared earlier, he does not need any presidential spokesman but would speak for himself. Aware of how the bureaucracy works, the 64-year old Chief Executive cut through the chase and riposted: “The left hand must know what the right hand is doing.”

The President is again vindicated in his alluding to this popular idiomatic expression in the current raging controversy over the no contact apprehension program (NCAP). Whenever the government is dipping too much on everything, most likely than not, the right hand forgets what its left hand is doing.

A case in point is the various government agencies involved in the NCAP. These include the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). It was brought to light after several local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila and even in Bataan implemented it already without benefit of public hearings. But none of these agencies would take responsibility when things go awry.

Most denounced is the amounts of fines ranging from P1,500 to as much as P5,000 per violation. Such amounts are excessively greater than the measly daily earnings of public utility drivers. Still getting out of their economic dislocation from oil price hikes and pandemic restrictions, such punishing fines could paralyze them already.

The NCAP is actually a Public-Private Partnership contract of the MMDA and LGUs with a company called Qpax. According to Valenzuela City Mayor Wes Gatchalian, the CCTV was put up and is being operated by the Qpax under a 70-30 arrangement, or 70 percent of the collections from fines and penalties go to the operator while 30% goes to the LGU.

Not a party to this business deal but is getting also the flaks from the motoring public, LTO chief Teofilo Guadiz III announced he would move for the suspension of the NCAP implementation until issues against it are ironed out. For example, Guadiz noted, the LGUs need to install timers in their traffic lights because the CCTV catches all vehicles caught in the middle of an intersection whenever there is traffic jam.

The LTO, Guadiz explained, becomes the “repository” of the uncollected NCAP notices that would be served to the owners of the vehicles involved in traffic violations come registration time. If the LGUs would reject the LTO’s appeal, Guadiz vowed to elevate this to DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos and recommend a review and temporary suspension of NCAP.

The NCAP is currently implemented by the MMDA as well as in the cities of Manila, Quezon City, Paranaque, Valenzuela whose Mayors opposed the LTO chief’s suspension call. The LGU chief executives invoked their autonomy as guaranteed under the Local Government Code.

The brouhaha prompted lawmakers of the 19th Congress to take matters into their hands. Congressmen Rep. Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte and Joey Sarte-Salceda of Albay took up the cudgels for this yet seemingly headless chicken project of the government. In a privilege speech in the House of Representatives at the Batasan Pambansa last Tuesday, Barbers called for an inquiry in aid of legislation of how NCAP has been abusing its power to fine “without due process.” At the outset, Barbers declared the NCAP fines were in violation of the constitutional rights of the people for a fair hearing.

Salceda echoed such arbitrariness of the NCAP during our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday. Speaking in our news forum at Café Adriatico in Malate, Salceda admitted having been issued with NCAP notices of violations and fines to be paid. While he is more than willing to pay and settle the fines, Salceda fears that it might become a case of “recidivism,” if not contested.

For now, Salceda disclosed, he filed House Bill No. 3423 proposing to enshrine a Bill of Rights for motorists in Traffic Code and to cap penalties for those who drive vehicles for a living. It shall be known as “Motorist Protection and Rights Act.” The NCAP, Salceda believes, based their rules on traffic violations apparently from Republic Act (RA) 4136, or the Traffic Code of the Philippines that became a law in 1964.

For almost seven decades ago since RA 4136 was enacted, more modernized land transportation vehicles and road traffic volume have evolved through these years, Salceda pointed out. During those days in the past, there were no Grab or Angkas companies whose vehicles are registered by their operators to the LTO and not to the drivers who commit the traffic infractions, he added.

“In that law, there is no recourse for motorists, they cannot complain ... So I filed the bill to protect the motorists’ rights,” Salceda pointed out.

The NCAP primarily uses closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed in key traffic areas in catching traffic violations. Motorists caught violating traffic rules and regulations get issued with NCAP notice from the LGUs where they committed the infraction.

As envisioned by this project, it will remove incidents of “kotong” or extortion activities of erring traffic enforcers, improve road discipline of drivers, and therefore greater safety on the road from less reckless driving. However, the righteous rage has weighed down the very good intentions of this project when caught in this moneymaking cameras.

NCAP

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