The Baguio Regional Trial Court concluded that “the tremendous increase in the fines and charges, for as much as 1,200 percent was more of a revenue measure, rather than of regulation” and thus, not within the power of the Land Transportation Office to do and is therefore, “unconstitutional.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – If President Benigno Aquino III really meant to fulfill his promise of change, why is hisadministration continuing Arroyo’s treatment of drivers and motorists as “milking cows?” Why is the Aquino government disregarding the court’s decision stopping its transport agency’s implementation of steeply increased fees and penalties?
These, among other questions and issues, were raised by members and allies of transport group Pinag-isang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston) as they held a nationally coordinated transport protest this week.
The National Capital Region leg of this transport protest began with Piston members gathering with their vehicles at the Quezon City Elliptical Road, in front of the city hall.
Caravans and picket rallies were also reportedly held nationwide, culminating in rallies in front of Regional or District offices of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and Land Transportation office (LTO) in Baguio/Cordillera, Biñan, Calamba, Bico/Legaspi City, Western Visayas, Bacolod, Roxas City, Dumaguete, General Santos and Southern Mindanao/Davao.
In Quezon City, Piston members stormed the main office of the DOTC in East Avenue. They lambasted it for its inaction on the decision of the Baguio City Regional Trial Court, which ordered the DOTC to stop implementing the charging of higher penalty fees for traffic violations. Next, the transport group drove in a caravan to protest what they call as oil overpricing in front of Petron’s headquarters in Ortigas.
In front of the DOTC and Petron, transport leaders from various chapters of Piston took turns criticizing the government’s policies which, they said, combine to further erode the take-home pay of drivers and all working peoples in exchange for the government’s “money-making activities” and allow oil companies to raise their prices at will.
Steep LTO-DOTC penalties, fines denounced
Piston, quoting the decision of Baguio City’s Regional Trial Court issued last May 2, said the LTO’s revised schedule of fines and penalties for traffic violations are not only too high, it is also unconstitutional and should thus be “null and void.”
Citing the court victory of a member organization of Piston in Baguio City in northern Luzon, George San Mateo, national president of Piston, asked whythe Aquino government,through the LTO and all its deputized traffic officers, is still not abiding by the court’s decision. Even if the decision emanated from a regional trial court, San Mateo said, it had deemed as unconstitutional the same order,which the LTO and DOTC are still implementing up to now.
The charging of higher penalty fees has been implemented since the LTO issued Department Order No. 2008-39 entitled “Revised Schedule of LTO Fines and Penalties for Traffic and Administrative Violations.” The LTO issued the new penalty scheme on Oct 6, 2008. They started implementing it on March 2, 2009 amid bitter protests of motorists, particularly public utility jeepney drivers, and AUV/FX taxi drivers. They decried how the new scheme had led to increased apprehension, whether or not the bases were true, which, in turn, also resulted in increased bribes.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com nearly three years ago, transport leaders led by Piston detailed how they, public transport drivers, are the most affected by the new fines. They said they have to contend with various groups of national and local government-deputized traffic officers who are intent more on imposing fines than solving the traffic problem. They complained of the lack of coordination between these traffic officers as well.
The filing of a case in court questioning the legality of the LTO’s Department Order 2008-39 was initiated by the drivers of Baguio City-Maria Basa route, as some of them had been the first to be apprehended by the “flying squad” of the LTO for alleged “out of line” or “deviation charges.”Their protestations resulted in the Maria Basa Express Jeepney Operators and Drivers’ Association filing a case, supported by Piston, against the LTO.
In the NCR and other regions, Piston reportedly campaigned against the LTO order. They conducted transport caravans and rallied in front of the LTO and the DOTC to denounce what they call as legalized kotong(undue exaction). In this week’s protest, San Mateo tagged the Aquino government as a “big kotongero” or big crocodile.
Last May 2, the Baguio City Regional Trial Court issued its decision on the case filed by Maria Basa Express Jeepney Operators and Drivers’ Association et al versus LTO et al. It affirmed the drivers charges against the said order.
The court adjudged that from the beginning, “it is clear that the intention thereof is to improve revenue collection and revenue targets not only to cover the cost of regulation but as well for social consideration, health, education and other social services.” It is not the LTO’s job to do that, the court said.
A member of the Revision Committee on Administrative Fees and Charges of the government’s transport agency, when asked during cross-examination, “admitted that the assailed Department Order No. 2008-39, among others, was meant to improve revenue collection of the national government to cater and cover social economic programs such as poverty alleviation programs of the government,” the court decision stated. Yet, this same person “admitted that poverty alleviation is not one of the core functions of the Land Transportation Office.”
As such, the court concluded that “the tremendous increase in the fines and charges, for as much as 1,200 percent was more of a revenue measure, rather than of regulation.”
The court also reminded the government’s transport agencies that the “inherent Power to Tax is purely legislative in nature.” It wrote in its decision that “One of the inherent limitations on the taxing power is its “Non-delegability.” The power of taxation is vested on the legislative branch under the Constitution, a power the executive branch cannot arrogate unto itself.”
While at first glance, the LTO Department Order 2008-39 appears to be in the nature of a valid exercise of police power by the Land Transportation Office. A careful perusal and reading however reveals otherwise, the court decision wrote.
The LTO Department Order 2008-39 “was neither promulgated to be disciplinary, nor punitive or preventive measure in the exercise of police powers of the Land Transportation Office, but rather aimed to generate funds for the government coffers. In short, it is an exercise of the power of taxation, one that is beyond the power of the respondent government agencies,” the Baguio RTC said.
For these reasons, the court said, this LTO Department Order 2008-39 “ought to be declared without force and any legal effect.”
Yet, according to the drivers led by Piston, the LTO and the DOTC continue to flout the court’s declaration that DO 2008-39 is “null and void for being unconstitutional.”
San Mateo quoted the court as saying: “The Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Department of Transportation and communication (DOTC), and all persons and offices acting in their behalf are hereby directed to CEASE and DESIST from implementing LTO Department Order 2008-39.” But, as they revealed during their nationally–coordinated protest action, the Aquino government has not yet ceased and desisted from implementing the increased fines.
Piston announced that they are currently preparing for more nationally–coordinated transport protests, not just against the unconstitutional LTO order, but also against other policies, such as the oil deregulation law and Value-Added Tax on oil, which, they said, intensify the misery of drivers and working people.