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One sign of a healthy democracy is the quality of debate between opposing sides of an issue. Democratic ideals welcome the interchange of thoughts and positions over a contentious plan of action.  This is normally accomplished by the presentation of facts and arguments with the hope that the people will be heard and wise decisions will be adopted by the ruling class or the majority. The winning side is the one that persuades the majority to see things its way.

These democratic practices are what makes our society so vibrant and alive. Heck, we fought for it with our blood, sweat and tears. And the reason we can write about it now is because of the relative freedom we enjoy to do so. 
But at what point does debate and reasoning become a hindrance to progress instead of a venue for upliftment? When does too much democracy become too much?

Whenever a disruptive force catches the people’s attention, you can be sure that there will be  groups that are for and against it. Case in point, the Private Motor Vehicle Inspection Center or PMVIC, issue. One thing people can agree on is that there is a need to have vehicle inspections done prior to registration. What they cannot agree on is how to do it. 
While Republic Act Number 4136 is the basis of the Land Transportation Office’s role, mandate and existence, one wonders why it has abandoned its duty to ensure the roadworthiness of every motor vehicle on the road. Just to be clear, the dereliction of duty has been ongoing for decades. It is only now that something is being done about it. But for some quarters, the Department of Transportation, under which the LTO operates, and its PMVIC scheme is the wrong way of solving the problem. 

The PMVIC issue has pretty much died down since the start of the year when it became a hot topic. But like a thief in the night in August, the LTO reimposed the requirement for motorists to have their vehicles inspected at PMVIC locations prior to registration. Even while many of the questionable issues surrounding it have not been resolved. And like the hero of the day, politicians and anti-PMVIC groups would again slam the DOTr and the LTO and force their hand to retract the order. People: 2, DOTr and LTO – 0.

More recently, Local Government Units are set to implement contactless apprehension. This is the issuance of traffic violation tickets to registered owners of cars based on video or photo evidence of the vehicle caught in the act, so to speak. This aims to reduce the slow down of traffic caused by roadside apprehensions as well as the often used motorist tactic of negotiating with law enforcers to let them pass scott free. The scheme even promises to remove the element of bribery and corruption from the equation. 

This sounds good on paper. But as opponents of the measure contend, it would be unfair to registered owners of the cars if they were the ones penalized while their vehicle is driven by another driver. This is the scenario seen by Transport Network Vehicle Service operators. 

To them, the system only sees the plate number of the vehicle cited for a violation. Meanwhile, the actual driver of the vehicle may not be the one whose name is printed on the OR/CR of the vehicle. As a consequence of the violation, they say that their vehicle’s registration will be held “hostage” by the LTO if the fees are not settled. 

Those who challenge the idea believe that the driver at the time of the violation should be the one ticketed, not the registered owner per se. And certainly, they contend, the vehicle should not be made to suffer because of the driver’s transgression. Which makes sense really, as the vehicle will not go anywhere without a driver behind the wheel. 
How will the contactless apprehension system, in whatever final form it takes, be able to identify the driver? Can it even do so? Proponents of the plan contend that the registered owner of the vehicle is the “presumed driver” of the car. And this just opens up a can of worms. 

Questions such as, “Is the owner of the vehicle the driver at the time of the apprehension?” Or “If the owner is a company or a corporation, should the ticket be issued to the company to be settled by the same?” How about, “If the car’s registration papers are not updated and it still reflects the previous owner, should the old owner still get the ticket?” And we can only assume there are a large number of this last case on the road.

But as impassioned as the contenders of these two recent schemes are, one cannot help but wonder where all the “anti” rhetoric will take the vast majority of the riding and driving public who only wish for better government service and improved convenience and quality of life.

Once the noise dies down, will it all lead to a better plan reinforced by compromise between contending parties? Will it be a better solution for all? Or will it just be forgotten again and relegated to a blip on the newsfeed of a bygone era. Are we not yet tired of all these shenanigans by now?

Democracy is a double-edged sword. Practiced wisely, it can bring forth discourse and let better, more encompassing and fairer ideas flourish. Used as a weapon to further self interests however, and it just becomes a stumbling block to the progress we all seek. 

Which side are you on?

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