NCAP hits speed bumps

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

How I wish the raging debate over the no contact apprehension program (NCAP) will immediately result to easing the daily traffic congestion here in Metro Manila. According to a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) released in 2018, an estimated P5.4 billion worth of economic man-hours are being lost due to traffic jams in the country’s national capital region (NCR) alone.

According to this JICA study, the projected economic losses will reach this much by 2035 due to daily traffic if no interventions are made in Metro Manila. The latest figures came from JICA’s Follow Up Survey on the Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Greater Capital Region done in 2017.

“Transportation, among other things, is an element that can help the Philippines sustain its growth and economic gains,” JICA’s Chief Representative to the Philippines underscored this after they released a year later the updated study. The JICA study was done in collaboration with the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in a bid to develop a five-year action plan to ease traffic woes.

Thus, many bright ideas have cropped up through the years on how to ease traffic gridlocks, such as MMDA’s number coding during rush hours. The MMDA, in fact, resumed its number coding traffic scheme and will strictly implement this starting tomorrow.

Lately, there is the now controversial traffic solution program that 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 notice of violations from the local government units (LGUs) where they committed the infraction. Dubbed as the No Contact Apprehension Program (NCAP), it is actually a Public-Private Partnership contract of the LGUs with a company called Qpax Traffic Systems Inc.

From Google search, Qpax is described as an information technology (IT) company based in Makati City that offers “true end-to-end traffic enforcement solutions” to LGUs and national government agencies. In its Google site, Qpax stated: “We use tried and tested technologies that have been proven to be highly effective and localize it to the Philippine Setting. We work with cities and government agencies to help solve vehicular traffic. If you want to make a difference, then we are the right company for you.”

But not when you impose fines ranging from P2,000 to as much as P5,000 per violation. This was the howling protest of public utility drivers decrying such huge amounts of fines given their measly daily earnings that could not even feed their families with decent meals. Organized drivers’ groups filed petitions last Monday before the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the NCAP for being “unconstitutional.”

The SC, however, did not immediately grant the petitioners for injunction. The LGU chief executives earlier invoked their autonomy as guaranteed under the Local Government Code. There have been precedent cases filed at the Appellate Courts that upheld the autonomy of LGUs, including ordinances to impose their own traffic rules, regulations and ordinances.

The NCAP is currently implemented in the cities of Manila, Quezon City, Paranaque, Valenzuela, San Juan, and Muntinlupa, and to as far as Bataan, that individually entered into joint venture agreement (JVA) with Qpax.

The MMDA and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) are not part of the NCAP. Ironically, LTO was impleaded in the SC petition since Qpax gets its data on motor vehicle registrations from them. Both the LTO and the MMDA have their own respective sets of fines and penalties that are definitely much lower than those imposed by the NCAP. Moreover, the MMDA and the LTO, under their respective Charters, have instituted adjudication body to contest alleged infractions of drivers and motorists.

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 coffers. Shortly, the City Council of Valenzuela approved an ordinance amending the city’s traffic code and including NCAP in its mechanism of penalizing erring drivers caught along MacArthur Highway. Recently, Mayor Gatchalian disclosed, the city government decided to reduce fines on simple traffic violations.

The NCAP had test-runs in 2019 before the Metro Manila LGUs implemented it. Or that was the period before the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed the mobility of motorists for the past two years. But since early this year, the entire NCR had been lowered to COVID Alert Level-1 that lifted restrictions to mobility of people and vehicles.

Thus, the hue and cry over “excessive” amounts of fines began with the NCAP catching more traffic violators in flagrante de licto.

On the other hand, however, it is argued that these NCAP fines were really intended to hit violators where it would hurt them most – their pockets and wallets.

But the problem is the NCAP notices are sent through the Philippine Postal Authority. Given the slow-mail services of PhilPost, the NCAP notices arrive more than the ten-day period within which to contest or pay the fine. Given these kinks, LTO chief Teofilo Guadiz III called out the LGUs concerned to suspend their implementation of NCAP until issues against it are ironed out. Guadiz lamented the LTO becomes the “repository” of the uncollected NCAP notices of traffic violations sent out to the owners of the vehicles involved in traffic violations. Before the registration of a vehicle is renewed, the LTO requires the vehicle owners to pay and settle first their fines.

Echoing the call of the LTO are leaders of the 19th Congress, Rep.Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte and Rep.Joey Salceda of Albay. The two lawmakers underscored the need to “rethink” whether the model of allowing NCAP to be the subject of PPPs is allowed under existing laws and regulations.

Though hitting these speed bumps to its implementation, the NCAP is still on the roll.                                                                            


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