Supreme Court stops release of license plates

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Car owners would have to wait longer for their license plates after the Supreme Court stopped on Tuesday the release of thousands of plates donated to the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

The court issued a temporary restraining order barring the LTO and the Transportation and Communication Department from disposing of 300,000 license plates for motor vehicles and 400,000 plates for motorcycles.

The Bureau of Customs turned over the plates to LTO last April 15.

The backlog has reached 110,000 new plates and 1.2 million replacement plates in April, according to LTO-NCR Regional Director Emiliano Bantog.

The stay order is immediately executory and will remain in effect until further orders from the court.

Congressmen Jonathan Dela Cruz and Gustavo Tambunting asked the court to stop the donation in a petition where they argued that the plates were confiscated from provider Power Plates Development Concepts, Inc/J. Knieriem B.V. Goes for non-payment of taxes and customs duties.

They pointed out that the Commission on Audit had issued a notice of disallowance requiring LTO/DOTC and PPI-JKG to return to the Bureau of Treasury the advance payment of almost P500 million to the plates provider.

The confiscated plates, they said, cannot be donated or transferred to the LTO in view of the notice of disallowance.

Atty. Leo Romero, counsel of Dela Cruz and Tambunting, said the issuance of the TRO is a "victory for the Filipino people."

"Now, we look forward to a government of change and not the previous government which appeared to adopt a culture of criminal impunity in the wastage of public funds and the proliferation of graft and corruption," he said.

Dela Cruz and Tambunting asked the Supreme Court to nullify the "application and implementation" of the questionable appropriation for P3.8 billion LTO Motor Vehicle License Plate Standardization Program under the 2014 budget.

They wanted to invalidate government's contract with PPI-JKG.

They said this will prevent the “undue waste of people’s money” in implementing the controversial plates modernization program. They said this will stop the collection of money for new plates from millions of motorists.

The two congressmen explained the more than 3-billion peso LTO Motor Vehicle License Plate Standardization Program was publicly bid out in 2013, but only P187 million had been appropriated for it under the item “Motor Vehicle Plate Making Project." They said this was a clear violation of the Constitution and the procurement laws that require sufficient funds be appropriated before any bidding is undertaken.

Despite the lack of appropriation, they noted the DOTC-LTO proceeded to award the project and implemented it by applying the appropriation under the item of “Motor Vehicle Registration and Driver’s Regulatory Services” of the succeeding year.

The congressmen pointed out that this is totally different and distinct from the “Motor Vehicle Plate Making Project” indicated in the 2013 budget.