Punish the majority for the actions of a few?
In the last couple of weeks, there was one new piece of legislation that has gained notoriety among motorcyclists: doble plaka. Quite literally, it means double plate.
And it's no longer a bill; it's now a Republic Act. The official short name: Motorcycle Crime Prevention Act.
This new legislation for motorcycle owners and riders was created out of a need to curtail criminal activity. The new Republic Act aims to achieve this goal by toughening up the rules regarding the identification of motorcycles -both two-wheeled and three-wheeled- by criminalizing the failure to register or transfer the ownership of a motorcycle, up to and including the installation of two, larger and more visible license plates; one in front and one in the back. Mind you, motorcycles don't typically have mounts for a front license plate.
The need can be rationalized very easily: criminals require mobility, and given traffic, they resort to motorcycles that can easily maneuver in and out of even the heaviest of gridlocks and disappear. From simple snatch and grabs to armed robberies and tandem riding assassins carrying out dirty deeds typically motivated by money and/or politics, motorcycles are the most common denominator, and that's what our lawmakers targeted. And given that the President is, understandably, big on taking on criminal activity, a veto was never really on the cards.
Personally, I don't ride, but I feel for the millions of riders that are up in arms and are going to be unduly hassled by Republic Act 11235. But I think this law has some significant parallels with another law that was passed a few years ago: Republic Act 10591.
If you like to shoot or lawfully own a firearm, you'll know what it is: the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.
Some may wonder why we're relating the new motorcycle anti-crime law to the Philippine gun law, but let's take a look at the stipulations of the law on firearms first.
If you want a firearm, you first need to get a License To Own and Possess Firearms (LTOPF). The list of requirements is long, and they include things like a drug test, a neuropsychiatric test, a gun safety seminar, identification cards, your certificate of employment or business permit, clearances from the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation.
They were very thorough, restrictive, and selective because, unlike in the United States, firearms ownership in the Philippines is a privilege, not a right protected by the constitution. And given the requirements costs of establishing a firearms importer or dealer, not to mention our import taxes among others, the price of owning good firearms is not just a privilege; it's a luxury. Prices are double (generally) compared to the US.
I know how expensive and time consuming it can be; I just got mine. And mind you, that's just to bring a new firearm home. If you want to be able to carry your firearm outside of your home to your place of business to protect yourself, you'll have to apply for a separate and much more expensive Permit To Carry Firearm Outside of Residence (PTCFOR) to be able to do so.
Honestly, I don't mind going through the hoops. That's the law, and the steps you go through -while definitely not hassle-free- does make the privilege of firearms ownership feel a bit more special, oddly enough.
Now perhaps you're wondering what the similarity is to the new motorcycle-related law, and my argument is simple: both Republic Act 11235 and 10591, while good in intentions is affecting the law-abiding majority to curtail the activities of (hopefully) just a few.
While the media publicizes stories about criminals that use motorcycles to get their nefarious jobs done and hype up firearms-related crimes, I believe that these incidents reflect the actions and intents of a few, and not the majority.
I believe that the majority of motorcycle riders are ordinary folks who need to get to work, attend meetings, make deliveries, go on dates or take a tour of the country on two wheels, much in the same way that I believe the majority of firearms owners in the Philippines are ordinary folks that own a gun to protect themselves, their homes and their families.
Actually there's something even more similar now to the doble plaka law and firearms ownership. If you thought it's annoying that your motorcycle now has to have two big plates for easier identification, based on a new set of implementing rules from 2018, PTCFOR holders now have to carry a firearm in a bag of some sort. A citizen can no longer carry a gun concealed in a holster inside the waistband or in their pocket. That makes drawing in an emergency situation a lot more complex, and also having a sling bag, clutch bag, or belt bag practically announces that you're armed. Think about it: no bag = no gun = potential victim.
I am of the opinion that the punishment or the measures to address the actions and intents of a few shouldn't be levied upon the majority. That is just not fair, much in the same way that I think there's something wrong when police checkpoints only really stop and check motorcycles, not automobiles. I wouldn't mind showing an officer my license and registration; nothing to hide here.
A new law wasn't really what was needed; enforcement and a much more visible police presence is what was needed.
They say a bad apple spoils the bunch, but it's a bit of a reach to apply it to people. But it seems our lawmakers are spoiling the conditions for the bunch, all because of a bad few.