Public interest should be primordial in no-contact apprehension policy
The policy was well-meaning. Daily, motorists drive with dread of enforcers from local government units and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, out to enforce a hodgepodge of senseless number coding schemes and confusing road signs and lanes that make for the arbitrary application of rules. Note that jeepneys, buses, trucks, and other old vehicles that belch black smoke continue to pass emission tests despite the supposedly strict laws against it.
From available documents and arguments, the objective of the no-contact apprehension policy (NCAP) was to utilize technology, in this case, basic closed-circuit television or CCTV cameras to monitor and capture errant behavior, and impose fines and penalties that are collected at source pending a vehicle’s registration. The results are not disputed—there was a significant drop in violations and accidents where NCAP was implemented. But why the public outcry that resulted in a challenge to the policy before the Supreme Court, which issued a temporary restraining order against it? The result is that the NCAP, though laudable in intent, was halted in its present overall form.
The arguments were that fines were excessively high—P2,000 to P5,000 are hardly affordable for drivers of public utility vehicles. Compounding this was the extreme delay in informing the registered vehicle owner of the alleged violation, in most cases many months after which fines have already accumulated, and recollection of the supposed infractions has faded. Interests on unpaid fines were added as penalties, even when there was no prior notification. The interest rate charged on the unpaid fines can make credit card companies look like good Samaritans. The affected motorist was then led on a merry goose chase, tracking down records of violations and payment, as payments were not credited and motorists had the burden to show receipts. As the amounts quickly piled up, it was claimed that they become confiscatory and violate due process. Worse, it was at the point of vehicle registration when the owner would find out the scale of the fines imposed, a “penalty shock” that must quickly be resolved under pain of nonregistration of the vehicle involved. In other words, it may be a no-contact policy for the ease and speed of apprehension, but it was full contact when it came to disputes and payments.
The horror stories in social media confirmed this. Leaves from work had to be taken, productivity disrupted, and additional costs incurred for repeated trips to and from city hall. Even with face-to-face disputes, the poor motorist was hapless with no effective mode to support his claim. His grievance was magnified by what he believed were erroneous fines. For example, a turn on a flashing yellow or a sudden swerve because of a wayward car or a child resulted in the same findings of a traffic violation that must be fined. In many and perhaps most instances, the only recourse was to pay, pay, and pay.
The fact that a large chunk of the monies collected went to private companies only made it worse. The NCAP thus became a revenue center instead of an implementation mechanism. As it is, the policy needs to be improved, taking into account the valid points raised. There ought to be a cost-recovery plan over a limited period of time for such a simple technology. Overall, technology is the way forward for safer roads and better governance, but it must be undertaken with the public welfare at heart. Motorists and consumers have suffered the brunt of rules and regulations that have been subverted by graft and corruption over the decades. These were discussed in oral arguments before the Supreme Court, and it is laudable that its present leadership considered public interest to be primordial in this case. I, therefore, look forward to their wisdom to help guide the practical and fair enforcement of a good policy.
Geronimo L. Sy