The Supreme Court (SC) decided en banc to lift a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued in June 2016 halting the release of over 600,000 license plates for motor vehicles and motorcycles donated by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

The said plates were seized by the BOC as Dutch-Filipino consortium Knieriem BV Goes and Power Plates Development Concept Inc. (JKG-PPI) failed to settle PhP 40 million in taxes and duties. It was later decided that the plates be donated to the LTO to help solve the plate backlog.

The seemingly positive move was blocked by a petition from Representatives Jonathan Cruz (Abakada party-list) and Gustavo Tambunting (Parañaque 2nd District), who argued that the confiscated license plates cannot be donated to the LTO by the BOC in view of the notice of disallowance issued by the Commission on Audit (COA) on the LTO Motor Vehicle License Plate Standardization Program (LTO-MVLPSP).

According to SC spokesman Theodore Te, the high court dismissed the petition filed by Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz of Abakada party-list and Parañaque 2nd District Rep. Gustavo Tambunting, which questioned the legality of the BOC’s move to donate the plates to LTO.

“The Court ruled that the 2014 GAA (General Appropriations Act) included an appropriation for the program and the use of the appropriation is constitutional,” the high court said.

Citing a ruling issued in 2015, GR 212381 (Jacomille v Abaya), which declared appropriation for the implementation MVLPSP under the 2014 national budget as constitutional, the court decided to dismiss a TRO stopping the distribution of plates issued June 14, 2016.

“The appropriation, both for procurement and implementation, has been examined and decided by the Court and may not be assailed anew under the present petition based on the same grounds, which had already been dealt with in the Jacomille decision,” the Court ruled.

The Motor Vehicle License Plate Standardization Program, which was supposed to run from July 2013 until June 2018, with a budget of Php 3.8-billion for the procurement of license plates for 5,236,439 motor vehicles and 9,968,017 motorcycles nationwide was declared by the Commission on Audit as illegal upon violation of the procurement law.

More recently, the LTO announced that it has awarded a new consortium to produce license plates for much less than the original contract. The winning bidder Trojan Computer Forms Manufacturing Corporation and J.H. Tonnjes E.A.S.T. GmbH & Co KG Joint Venture agreed to produce plates for Php 978.8-million and would start release by March 2018.

In a statement, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) welcomed news of the Supreme Court's decision, ordering the lifting of the June 2016 temporary restraining order (TRO) it issued on the release of the license plates donated by the BOC to the LTO. According to the DOTr, about half of the said plates were already released by LTO to vehicle owners prior to the TRO issuance.