Provincial Legal Office (PLO) chief lawyer Nilo Ahat has defended the use of a fake license plate by a Capitol-owned sports utility vehicle (SUV) saying that the usage of the number plate which led to the vehicle being flagged down by the police in Baclayon town was legal.
Ahat, during the Capitol’s weekly press briefing led by Governor Arthur Yap on Friday last week, said the use of the false plate was “justified” since the vehicle, a Mitsubishi Pajero, was being used during a provincial government-sanctioned operation.
On June 7, 2021, officers of the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) caught the Capitol SUV in Barangay Laya, Baclayon sporting a private license plate registered to a vehicle owned by a woman in Lapu-Lapu City. Members of the Bohol Environmental Protection Task Force (BEPTF) who were onboard the vehicle were reportedly travelling from Garcia Hernandez town where they investigated an alleged illegal quarry operation.
“It is a matter of rule in law enforcement na nag-ingon na ways and means employed by law enforcement officials to facilitate apprehension of violators of the law is justified provided that the operation is legitimate,” Ahat said.
Ahat did not specify what ruling he was citing and what “ways and means” in particular were permitted in the conduct of law enforcement operations.
According to Ahat, the switching of plates was done as part of the team’s “disguise” so as not to alert the subject of their operation.
However, the SUV was caught at 5:30 p.m. in Barangay Laya, Baclayon, after the operation and more than 40 kilometers away from the supposed area of operation in Garcia Hernandez.
As stated in the Land Transportation and Traffic Code (Republic Act No. 4136), the switching of license plates is prohibited.
It stipulates that the violation is punishable by a fine of P5,000 or imprisonment of six months, or both, depending on the discretion of the court.
Lawyer Tomas Abapo, dean of the Holy Name University College of Law, also said that switching of license plates is illegal and should have authorization from proper authorities.
Abapo said that the provincial government should also properly cite the ruling which it raised to justify their alleged violation.
For his part, HPG Bohol officer-in-charge Lt. Col. Oliver Plania told the Chronicle that there are no exemptions in the implementation of the law on the proper use of number plates as indicated in RA 4136.
He said there are also no rulings allowing exemptions in the prohibition of license plate switching.
“Wala tay rule ana. Ari g’yud ang atong basehan sa atoang balaudnon which is 4136. Dili na puydi kay ang sakyanan naa g’yud nay kaugalingon nga plaka. Walay balaudnon ana. No exemption ta,” said Plania.
Waiting for investigation
According to Ahat, he will wait until this week for the HPG to conduct a follow-up investigation on the incident so it may proceed and reach “closure.”
Ahat claimed that the HPG should have conducted an investigation immediately after the incident but the police unit did not proceed with the probe.
“We are reserving our best legal argument in the investigation that should have been called by the HPG immediately after the incident,” Ahat said.
In the HPG’s incident report however, it was indicated that the BEPTF’s team leader retired colonel Alex Maglajos refused to go with the HPG to their office for an investigation immediately after they were flagged down.
“The Team leader of BEPTF Retired Col Maglajos refused to follow us in our office for investigation,” the HPG’s Provincial Highway Patrol Team said in its report.
It was Ahat who signed the BEPTF’s Travel Authority and “Driver’s Trip Ticket.”
Both documents which were shown by the BEPTF to the police indicated that the SUV’s plate number was supposed to be SEY-969, a red government plate.
Instead, the vehicle was caught using the plate number bearing GWT 383, which is registered to another vehicle, a 2002 Daihatsu “S Pass” owned by one Leda Vida Ramirez of Lapu-Lapu City based on a document from the Land Transportation Office (LTO).
The LTO data showed that Ramirez’s vehicle is a UV (utility vehicle)-for-hire.
Police officers who flagged down the Capitol SUV also indicated that the vehicle did not have a license plate in its rear end which is also a violation.
“At all times, every motor vehicle shall display in conspicuous places, one in front and one in the rear thereof, the said number plates,” Section 18 of RA 4136 states.