BIZ BUZZ: Phoenix, Lucio Tan units settle dispute

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After months of legal wrangling, the Lucio Tan group has entered into an amicable settlement with Phoenix Petroleum Philippines Inc., giving the petroleum product distribution company led by Davao-based Dennis Uy “conducive space” to continue its operations.

To recall, Absolut Distillers Inc. (ADI) and Asian Alcohol Corp.(AAC), both LT Group affiliates, had complained to the courts about the supposed failure of Phoenix to pay its bill running to almost P160 million despite “numerous demands,” leading to the issuance of a writ of preliminary attachment by a Batangas court.

With the writ came garnishment notices served on Phoenix’s depository banks which had the effect of freezing the accounts of Phoenix, thus preventing it from withdrawing any cash.

But all’s well that ends well as ADI and AAC have accepted Phoenix’s “reasonable payment plan,” and thus agreed to withdraw cases pending in courts.

This way, Phoenix can comply with its commitments under the payment plan and address its obligations to other creditors.

“We extended this liberality as we believe in Phoenix’s good faith and ability to fulfill its obligations during these challenging times,” ADI and AAC said.

—Tina Arceo-Dumlao

The case for NCAP

It will take a miracle to solve the unsolvable Metro Manila traffic. But for a fleeting moment, it looked like everyone was behaving at their best as the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Land Transportation Office and several local government units (LGUs) began reimplementing the No Contact Apprehension Program (NCAP).

The data is undeniable. Parañaque City adopted NCAP in 2018 by utilizing artificial intelligence and technologies in identifying traffic violators 24/7. According to the recorded data from 2018-2022, there was an 84-percent reduction in traffic violations on a per-camera basis.

Meanwhile, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said a few months ago that the city’s NCAP program “has significantly reduced the traffic violations in the affected areas by 75 percent.”

Meanwhile, the city government of Manila, through its communications head, also noted last August that, according to the MMDA’s analysis in 2021, fatal and nonfatal injuries recorded in the city dropped by 917 incidents from its 2019 numbers. The average daily violations per camera also dropped significantly, from 56 in December 2020 to just three in August 2022.

In interviews, Valenzuela Mayor Wes Gatchalian said that since they started implementing NCAP in 2019, some 200,000 traffic violators were apprehended.

Yet for all the good that it has done, NCAP was stopped by the Supreme Court after two legal challenges were made against this policy on monitoring traffic violations via closed-circuit television cameras.

One petition to suspend NCAP was from transport groups, who claim, among other things, that motorists are “under the constant threat of being arbitrarily apprehended remotely” and that penalties under the NCAP are “unreasonable.”

The other legal challenge was from a lawyer who claims that his right to due process was violated as he had not been notified about his four supposed traffic violations in Manila. He also claims that the right to data privacy was compromised by the implementation of the NCAP, saying that traffic violation records and personal details of motorists were accessible to anyone who simply typed in the plate number of the vehicle involved in the violation.

It is no big secret that jeepneys, buses and tricycle drivers rule the streets in Metro Manila. They stop wherever and whenever they please, constantly counterflow on lanes to get ahead, beat traffic lights, among other things. They have done these things with impunity for decades.

Are fines under NCAP excessive? This point is moot since the goal is for everyone to observe traffic rules and regulations. The penalties are the deterrents against traffic violations, after all. Should a slap on the wrist be sufficient as a deterrent?

As for due process for violators, one could argue that the NCAP includes several processes. Being penalized is just one step. Each LGU has their respective traffic adjudication boards where motorists can contest violations and file appeals. On the assertion that traffic violation records are readily accessible, the data generated is not shared with the general public, hence there is no data privacy violation.

NCAP has been a proven deterrent in some areas around the country for some time now. Aside from road safety and order afforded to motorists and pedestrians, LGUs and their constituents stand to benefit from NCAP. Through the power to implement their own laws, LGUs who enforce NCAP will promote Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) for funding equipment required in this no contact policy. And no less than President Marcos encouraged LGUs to participate more in joint venture and PPPs in his State of the Nation Address.

The injunction against NCAP would only perpetuate the already chaotic road system in Metro Manila. And deploying more traffic enforcers can lead to more incidences of petty bribery. This creates a vicious cycle that instigates citizens toward corruption just to escape the hassle of receiving traffic citations—especially now that vehicular traffic volume is starting to return to prepandemic levels.

There are many arguments and hard empirical facts that favor NCAP as an effective means of controlling the number of traffic violations and promoting road safety. Clearly, its suspension is doing more harm than good. But will the country’s policymakers have the political will to re-implement it effectively? Abangan!

—Daxim L. Lucas

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