Sad news: The law may be stupid, but it is the law



By: Apollo V. Atencia

I have not seen, in recent years, any law passed by Congress that has made so much noise long before they became effective than Republic Act No. 11235 otherwise known as “Motorcycle Crime Prevention Act” which reportedly took effect last 22 May 2020. The reason perhaps is because it directly affects the lives of our ordinary folks as the motorcycle has been regarded as the new “vehicle of the masses” due to its low maintenance and affordable price.


Thus, what really is this fuss about RA No. 11235? The object of the law is crime prevention. It presupposes that motorcycles are often used in the commission of crimes that is why the State, through the said law, has burdened the motorcycle owners with tasks that, if not done, will subject them to penal- serious jail time- sanctions and stiff fines.  Critics of the law say that it does not solve the problem, and worse, it’s an antidote far worse than the disease it tends to cure.


For instance, RA No. 11235 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) direct the owner of a motorcycle to register his motorcycle with the LTO within five (5) days from acquisition of ownership and shall notify the LTO within three (3) days from the subsequent sale or disposition thereof. Failure to do these reportorial acts shall subject the owner to the maximum penalty of six (6) years of imprisonment and/or fine of as high as P50,000.00. You see, with these steep penalties, it appears that the law assumes that ALL motorcycle owners have already a devised criminal plan in their mind when they acquired the vehicle. And their failure to register with or notify the LTO within the prescribed period of time from acquisition or disposition thereof validates the assumption. Note that this punishable act is unique as it is the only one of its kind. It is also absurd in some respects. Not even RA No 10591, the law that regulates gun ownership and possession, punishes the act of non-registration of a firearm. In RA No, 10591, the failure of the gun owner  to renew the registration of his gun within 6 months before its expiration will result only to revocation of his license and cancellation of registration and, once revoked or cancelled, the owner is directed to surrender the gun to the nearest police station within 30 days therefrom. If the owner surrenders the gun, he has no criminally liability. Here in RA No. 11235, the mere failure to notify LTO within 3 days from the sale or disposition of the motorcycle will render the owner criminally liable and faces the prospect of a 6-year jail term. It seems therefore that it is now more tedious to maintain a motorcycle than to own a gun. Clearly, RA No. 11235 unfairly treats the ownership of unregistered motorcycle as malum in se (wrong or evil in itself) rather than a mala prohibita (wrong because it is prohibited). It views a motorcycle as an instrument of a crime rather than what really it is, a means of transport.


But really, is RA 11235 a deterrent to the prevailing crimes that were perpetrated by the “riders-in-tandem”? I don’t think so. Because the authors of these crimes almost always use stolen motorcycles with fake plates in their operation. The timely registration of the motorcycles has nothing to do to prevent these crimes as these hardcore criminals are not foolish enough to use their own motorcycles in carrying out the heist. If it is so easy for them to commit murders, it would not be too hard for them to steal vehicles in pursuance of the commission of a more serious crime. I can say that RA 11235 is a poor substitute to the real solution to the problem, that is, enhanced police visibility and effective follow-up police operation. The law should not shift the burden of the police enforcers in solving crimes to the hapless owners of motorcycles who, a big portion of them, belong to bottom and the lower middle of the social class. Motorcycles are not only used to perpetrate a crime, majority of these vehicles are used by fathers in bringing their child to school, by husbands taking their wives to their workplace, by small scale traders delivering their goods to the market and by our common tricycle boys in transporting their passengers on a daily basis. The good definitely outweigh the bad in so far as the use of motorcycles is concerned.


Given the obvious flaws of RA No.11235 as explained above, can it be held invalid by the courts? The answer is no. As long as the law is not found to have violated the Constitution, a stupid law remains a stupid law unless repealed or amended by Congress. By reason of the separation of powers, courts cannot pass upon questions of wisdom, justice and appropriateness of the law. It cannot encroach upon the prerogative of Congress that is the sole enactors of laws in our system of government. Courts cannot say that a law is ineffective and therefore invalid as “to do so would destroy the delicate system of checks and balances finely crafted by the Constitution for the three co-equal, coordinate and independent branches of government” (J. Leonen, dissenting and concurring opinion in Disini, Jr. vs. Secretary of Justice, G.R. No. 203335). As the late former Senator Joker Arroyo used to say, “Congress is superior in its own sphere.”


The patent imperfections of RA 11235 are not solely to be blamed to Congress. Sadly, a huge chunk of the fault lies on the electorates, the voters who lined up into the voting precincts during elections to vote for candidates whose only strength as contenders to the office they seek to occupy is their fancy TV commercials, their media mileage being celebrities in sports or films, their religious clout and backers, and the enormous amount of money they systematically and strategically give to their constituents to buy their votes. Our leaders can be a reflection of ourselves. So be very careful whenever you call them shallow, brainless, incompetent and ineffective…as you might be looking at a mirror.


As I understand, there are group of bikers who assailed the validity of RA No. 11235 in a court in Quezon City. However, unless the court strikes the law as invalid, we have no choice but to swallow it and comply with its mandate for after all this law was crafted by the leaders we voted for.

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