THE law is to be enforced, and applied by the courts, according to the ordinary or common understanding of the terms used in its enactment.
But, even with that first principle of statutory construction – the set of rules that we use as our guide in determining the meaning of the provisions of the law – a controversy still arises that requires final and unequivocal determination by the Supreme Court.
The high court is the final arbiter of which public officer or public office has the authority or jurisdiction to exercise a particular power or perform a specific duty.
Constitutionally, judicial power includes the duty of the court to settle an actual controversy.
The case of Land Transportation Office versus City of Butuan (GR No. 131512, Jan. 20, 2000) is an instance when the language of the law gives rise to the question of authority or jurisdiction.
In conformity with the policy to grant local autonomy to the political subdivisions of provinces, cities and municipalities, the Local Government Code or RA No. 7160 was enacted. Among the powers, duties and functions that the Code has granted the LGUs is the power, (s)ubject to the guidelines prescribed by the Department of Transportation and Communications, to regulate the operation of tricycles and grant franchises for the operation thereof within the territorial jurisdiction of the LGU.”
When the City of Butuan enacted its City Ordinance, it also relied on the provision that grants the LGU certain taxing powers, such as the provision on the common limitations on the taxing powers of Local Government Units that: “Unless otherwise provided herein, the exercise of the taxing powers of provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays shall not extend to the levy of the following:
“(I) Taxes, fees or charges for the registration of motor vehicles and for the issuance of all kinds of licenses or permits for the driving thereof, except tricycles.”
To the City of Butuan, the provision implied that the power of regulation of tricycles by the LGU included their registration and the issuance of the license of the driver of the tricycle.
In the ponencia written by Justice Jose Vitug, it was clarified that the power of regulation of tricycles refers to the power to regulate the tricycles as a public utility or for hire vehicle, including the grant of the franchise (the power exercised previously by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board).
The Court said: “Such as can be gleaned from the explicit language of the statute, as well as the corresponding guidelines issued by DOTC, the newly delegated powers pertain to the franchising and regulatory powers theretofore exercised by the LTFRB and not to the functions of the LTO relative to the registration of motor vehicles and issuance of licenses for the driving thereof.
“Clearly unaffected by the Local Government Code are the powers of LTO under RA No. 4136 requiring the registration of all kinds of motor vehicles ‘used or operated on or upon any public highway’ in the country.”
In conclusion, the Court made the admonition that it must “express its own serious concern over the seeming laxity in the grant of franchises for the operation of tricycles-for-hire and in allowing the indiscriminate use by such vehicles on public highways and principal thoroughfares.”
The court cited Sen. Aquilino C. Pimentel Jr., the principal author of the Local Government Code, with his observation that: “Tricycles are a popular means of transportation, especially in the countryside. They are, unfortunately, being allowed to drive along highways and principal thoroughfares where they pose hazards to their passengers arising from potential collisions with buses, cars and jeepneys.
“The Sanggunian concerned would do well to consider prohibiting the operation of tricycles along or across highways.”
LGUs need to be reminded as well of the ruling (of similar vein and import) in the case of Primicias versus Municipality of Urdaneta, Pangasinan (GR No. L-26702, Oct. 18, 1979).
There it was held that pursuant to the national law, RA No. 4136, “no provincial, city or municipal authority shall enact or enforce any ordinance or resolution specifying maximum allowable speeds other than those provided therein.”
The classification of highways for traffic purposes must be submitted to the Land Transportation Commission (now LTO) for approval.