No-contact apprehension for traffic violations in Metro Manila cannot be implemented yet

Supreme Court (SC)

Local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila cannot implement the no-contact apprehension policy (NCA) for traffic violations while the two petitions challenging the policy’s alleged unconstitutionality are still pending with the Supreme Court (SC).

The SC issued on Aug. 30, 2022 a temporary restraining order (TRO) against NCAP and the order is enforceable until further orders from the High Court.

The SC wrapped up early tonight, Jan. 24, the legal debates on the two petitions. The first oral arguments were held last Dec. 6.

After the oral arguments, the parties to the cases were given a non-extendible period of 30 days from Jan. 24 to file their respective memorandum in amplification the issues tackled during the debates.

Given the complexities of the issues involved in the NCAP – modes of implementation like systems and mechanics, alleged exorbitant penalties for traffic violations, alleged violations of due process like pay first before complaining, and issues on privacy rights, among other things – the SC – legal quarters said – is not expected to resolve the petitions immediately after the 30-day period to file memoranda.

There were two petitions against the alleged unconstitutionality of NCAP which utilizes closed-circuit television and digital cameras to identify and apprehend traffic violators through videos and images of their violations.

Once a violation is detected and the plate number of the vehicle is recorded, the local government unit issues traffic citation tickets and mail them directly to the vehicle's registered owner. Data on ownership of the vehicle is obtained from the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

Non-payment of fines within seven days would mean the subject vehicle cannot be re-registered by the owner.

NCAP in Metro Manila is operated by a private firm, QPAX Traffic Systems, Inc., which gets a share ranging from 60 to 70 percent of the total amount of fines collected by the LGUs for traffic violations.

In one LGU in Metro Manila alone, the SC was told that the city government had collected close to P200 million in traffic violation penalties before the enforcement of NCAP was stopped. Of the amount 65 percent had been remitted to QPAX which was reported to have invested only about P50 million for NCAP devices and equipment in that city.

The first petition was filed by the Kilusan sa Pagbabago ng Industriya ng Transportasyon, Inc. (KAPIT), Pangkalahatang Saggunian Manila and Suburbs Drivers Association Nationwide (Pasang-Masda), Alliance of Transport Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (ALTODAP), and Alliance of Concerned Transport Organization (ACTO).

They told the SC the implementation of NCAP is unconstitutional and thus invalid.

At the time the first petition was filed, the NCAP was being implemented in Metro Manila by the local governments of Quezon City, Manila, Valenzuela City, Muntinlupa City, and Parañaque City through their ordinances based on the 2016 resolution of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) which ordered the re-implementation of NCAP.

The second petition was filed by lawyer Juman B. Paa who also pleaded for the issuance of a TRO against the NCAP being implemented in the City of Manila.

In his petition, Paa asked the SC to declare unconstitutional Manila City Ordinance No. 8676, series of 2020, on NCAP.

He said the Manila Traffic and Parking Bureau (MTPB) has access to the database of the LTO relative to the details of the vehicle, including the name of the owner and address.

Paa said that “if a private company is performing the function of the MTPB, their access to the close circuit television (CCTV) footage might be used for other purposes like surveillance of a particular person thus exposing citizens to risks against safety and privacy.”

Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra said that “while 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,” Guevarra said.

“More importantly, the sharing by the Land Transportation Office of vehicle registration data with the local governments involves information necessary to carry out functions of public authorities,” he said.

“It is therefore a sharing of personal information which is expressly excluded from the coverage of the Data Privacy Act under Republic Act No. 10173,” he stressed.

Earlier, Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo had said that the legal challenge against NCAP will be one of the cases the SC will resolve immediately because it concerns public interest.

TAGS: #SC #CJ Gesmundo #NCAP #Solgen Guevarra #LTO