SC lifts TRO vs. release of 700-K vehicle plates

MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) lifted the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued in June 2016 that halted the release of about 700,000 license plates for motor vehicles and motorcycles seized by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and donated to the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

SC spokesman Theodore Te, in a briefing, announced the directive was issued following Tuesday’s regular en banc session of the magistrates.

Te said the high court dismissed the petition filed by Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz of Abakada party-list and Parañaque 2nd District Rep. Gustavo Tambunting, which questioned the legality of the BOC’s move to donate the plates to LTO.
The petitioners argued that the confiscated license plates cannot be donated to the LTO by the BOC in view of the notice of disallowance issued by the Commission on Audit (COA) on the LTO Motor Vehicle License Plate Standardization Program (LTO-MVLPSP).

Te said the high court declared as constitutional the use of appropriation under the Motor Vehicle Registration and Driver’s Licensing Regulatory Services in the 2014 national budget for the implementation of the MVLPSP.

“The Court ruled that the 2014 GAA (General Appropriations Act) included an appropriation for the program and the use of the appropriation is constitutional,” the high court said.

Te said the high court took into consideration two issues raised in the petition: whether the 2014 GAA included an appropriation for the MVLPSP and whether the use of the 2014 appropriation was constitutional.

The high court was referring to the Jacomille v. Abaya case (GR 212381) that focused on the legality of the procurement in consideration of the insufficient funding under the 2013 budget.

The program, which runs from July 2013 until June 2018, has a budget of PHP3.8 billion for the procurement of license plates for 5,236,439 motor vehicles and 9,968,017 motorcycles nationwide.

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) had awarded the project to the joint venture of Netherlands-based J. Knieiriem BV Goes and local company Power Plates Development Concept, with the contract signed on Feb. 21, 2014.

The DOTC and the LTO said the project involved adding safety features to license plates, such as tamper-resistant locks and bolts, and reflectorized sheeting.

The Court noted that while Jacomille’s petition focused on the legality of the procurement of the MVLPSP considering the insufficient funding of the project under the 2013 GAA, it nevertheless determined that the 2014 GAA contained appropriation for the MVLPSP, amounting to PHP4.8 billion , and could thus be implemented using the funds under the 2014 GAA.

“The appropriation, both for procurement and implementation, has been examined and decided by the Court and may not be assailed anew under the present petition based on the same grounds, which had already been dealt with in the Jacomille decision,” the Court ruled.

In a resolution issued on June 14, 2016, the Court stopped the distribution of the license plates, which may be subsequently turned over by the BOC in connection with the LTO-MVLPSP.