In India, they have a lovely term for the combination of insanity and unfairness that characterizes the tyranny of the bureaucracy, which thrives on demanding permits for everything—they call it the “License Raj.”
The term Raj was also used for the era of British imperial rule of their country, which no Indian misses. We have our own version. The characteristics of our own License Raj involves the Rule of Three. First, it should be sprung on the public as a surprise, with near-instant effectivity, to discombobulate the public as thoroughly as possible while giving law enforcers as much wiggle room for implementation as their hearts desire. Second, it should, as much as possible, punish citizens so bold as to already fulfill the objectives of the law. And third, and partially related to the second, if possible, it should multiply paperwork across agencies, up to and including additional state revenue from the mere production of paperwork through documentary stamps and, best of all, using up the ordinary citizen’s time.
This was on magnificent display over the past couple of days, in the case of car safety seats for children (I will dispense with the official term for them, “child restraint systems” as both ugly and sinister-sounding). A measure making them mandatory was passed by both chambers in December 2018, and signed into law in February 2019 as Republic Act No. 11229, with it going into effect on Feb. 2, 2021.
Except it was going, but not quite going, into effect. The Land Transportation Office (LTO) said that from three to six months—it could not be more precise, of course—enforcement would only extend to issuing warnings. Here we see Rule 1 at work.
At the time the announcement was made of the law coming into effect—mere days before it was due to do so, again more of Rule 1—the Department of Trade and Industry, tasked with setting standards for safety seats for kids, also helpfully informed the public that it would eventually publish a list of brands that meet its standards.
This was to pave the way for Rule 2—because for proactive parents who’d already purchased safety seats, the government helpfully announced it was going to punish them in the time-honored fashion of our government. The torture it had planned was exquisite. The LTO would be tasked with certifying seats already owned by parents. Roberto Valera, the LTO’s deputy director for law enforcement, grandly informed the public that “We’ll come up with a certificate that the car seat has been inspected and even though it was purchased prior to the effectivity of the law, it passes our inspection department so it will be allowed to be used.” The only thing lacking was for him to sing “Bippityboppityboo,” as Rule 3 came into effect. One can be sure the Bureau of Internal Revenue, in the spirit of this measure, will also insist on the appropriate purchase of documentary stamps to make it all official.
Along the way, officials found it convenient to practice their comedy which, however, led to confusion, because the middle class suffers from the congenital problem of still thinking government shouldn’t be a joke. LTO NCR director Clarence Guinto was nice enough to apologize for advising people just to get bigger vehicles if their kids got bigger, and instead clarified that if a child is over 4’11” in height, they are exempt from using child safety seats and can buckle in like adults.
Gus Lagman of the Automobile Association of the Philippines exclaimed that 4’11” was too tall to require a car seat, which in turn led ex-senator JV Ejercito, in exasperation, to say people should read the law before commenting. What is exasperating about lawmakers grousing about people not reading the law is that one has to wonder how many non-lawyer and non-bureaucrat people have the means and motivation to engage in the thrilling pastime of reading laws, when not very many lawmakers, we see time and again, do what Ejercito does.
By 9 a.m. yesterday, Ejercito tweeted that as the principal sponsor of the law, he’d recommend holding the law in abeyance for the duration of the pandemic. Finally at around 10:30 a.m. yesterday, the Department of Transportation and the LTO announced the deferment of the full implementation of RA 11229, with the transport department saying it will “finalize enforcement protocols first.” Someone, somewhere, realized an election is around the corner.