Malilong: Punish the driver, not the vehicle

ANY motor vehicle driven recklessly is a nuisance and should be seized peremptorily. The process is called abatement and that, in a nutshell, my dear friends, is the Cebu City Hall Theory of Impoundage.

Do not be misled by newspaper reports preceding Mayor Tomas Osmeña’s issuance of Executive Order No. 034, Series of 2018. The edict applies to all forms of reckless driving, not just counterflowing, although it says it is “more importantly” the latter. If you sideswipe a parked car, for example, the Citom can theoretically drive or tow your car to their storage area, depending on the discretion of the traffic enforcer or aide upon whom City Hall has assigned the job of executing the political will that the EO suggests it has in generous abundance.

But can the mayor on his own impose a penalty for a traffic violation, other than that which is already provided by law? EO 034 is a study in legal calisthenics: 1) the mayor is the keeper of the general welfare in the city, 2) the general welfare will be served by removing or abating a nuisance, 3) a vehicle that, among others, counterflows is a nuisance, ergo he can have the vehicle seized and kept off the streets until its owner coughs up enough cash to pay the storage fees.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate counterflowing. I have been oppressed, both as a driver and as a passenger, in many past counterflowing experiences. The stretch of the national highway between Carcar and Minglanilla is the most notorious for drivers stealing the opposite lane. In my anger, I oftentimes fantasized that some law and order champions were waiting just a few meters ahead with baseball bats ready to strike the bullies who just drove us off the road.

In those vengeful moments, I never thought of punishing the vehicle, only the driver. My late father-in-law may have taught me why. He was distressed that the owner of an adjacent land was stealing his mangoes on the pretext that the branches that bore them were hanging over his (the neighbor’s) property. One day, his youngest son suggested, “why don’t we just burn the tree?” The father’s reply was swift. “And what wrong has the tree done?”

A motor vehicle does not run by itself. It does not enter a one-way street or cross to the other lane by itself. Always, behind the wheel is a hand. Why punish the vehicle instead of the driver? What wrong has it done? Why not jail the person that owns the hand instead of impounding the car?

Look, when you impound a vehicle, you render it useless. If it’s a taxi or a PUJ, it is not only the owner that will suffer as a result but also and, even more importantly, the public for whose benefit, the franchise for the jeepney or the cab has been issued.

And the driver? He can still drive and remain a menace to public safety unless his license has been confiscated or revoked, penalties that, by the way, are imposed by existing law and not by Osmeña’s executive order.

In fairness, EO 034 does provide for the creation of a pool/team to run after the drivers, too. I wish them luck. I hope that they will be seized with a greater passion in running after reckless driving than any one in the Government has shown in enforcing the anti-littering ordinance. Or, for that matter, the mayor in repairing Tormis and other streets.

Still the question remains, is it wise to keep the instrument of the crime under lock while the criminal himself is as free as a bird? Shouldn’t the order of priority between punishing the driver and disabling the motor vehicle be rearranged?
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