The controversy on the use of a fake license plate by a Capitol-owned sports utility vehicle has been resolved following a meeting between the provincial government and the Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG) which had earlier flagged down the said SUV for the alleged violation.
The Capitol, through its communications arm, Primer, announced in a statement issued on Friday the “closure” of the issue, saying that the HPG Bohol Unit and the provincial government represented by Provincial Legal Officer (PLO) lawyer Nilo Ahat reached an agreement that an investigation on the violation will no longer be conducted.
According to Primer, the meeting between both parties was set by Provincial Board Member Ricky Masamayor, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s peace and order committee chairman.
“All is well that ends well,” Masamayor was quoted as saying by the Primer after the meeting.
On June 7, 2021, HPG officers caught the Capitol-owned Mitsubishi Pajero 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.
Following the incident, Ahat had maintained that the use of the fake plate was “justified” considering that the BEPTF was conducting a “legitimate” operation and was using the plate as “disguise” so as not to alert the subjects of the operation.
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).
During the meeting, which was held at Masamayor’s office, Ahat and the HPG Bohol Unit represented by Master Sergeant Marcelino Dacoylo agreed that the incident could have been prevented had both the BEPTF and police coordinated prior to the operation.
“HPG Bohol Unit explained that while they were performing their duties when they flagged down the vehicle, there is no more need for a full-blown investigation as the BEPTF was able to present Travel Authority,” Primer said.
The statement added that after the HPG agreed to not proceed with the probe, both parties instead forged a partnership and agreed to work together to implement mining laws.
It was unclear if the HPG led by Dacoylo concurred with Ahat’s claim that the Capitol’s switching of license plates was justified and if the foregoing of the investigation had a legal basis.
Lt. Col. Oliver Plania, HPG 7 deputy regional chief and Bohol officer-in-charge, earlier acknowledged that reports on the incident have reached his office but its investigation was led by Dacoylo.
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 Republic Act A 4136, otherwise known as the Land Transportation and Traffic Code.
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.
What went before
Last week, Ahat aired his defense on the use of the fake license plate by the Capitol 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 June 11, said the use of the wrong plate was “justified” since the vehicle was being used during a provincial government-sanctioned 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 RA 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.
Waiting for investigation
During the same press briefing, 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.
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. (RT)