Are private subdivisions/villages really allowed to take hold of your driver’s license when you enter them? This question has served as material for several write-ups, practically all of which state that one cannot and should not be compelled to surrender his or her license to the guard of a private village, and that the long practice of doing so violates Republic Act 4136 or the Land Transportation Code (hereafter the “Code” for brevity). Let’s try to explore the other side of the equation and see why private subdivisions may, arguably, ask you to surrender your license upon entry.
One of the main anchors for those that say private villages cannot get your license is Section 19 of the Code, which states that “Except as otherwise specifically provided in this Act, it shall be unlawful for any person to operate any motor vehicle without having in his possession a valid license to drive a motor vehicle. The license shall be carried by the driver at all times when operating a motor vehicle, and shall be shown and/or surrendered for cause and upon demand to any person with authority under this Act to confiscate the same."
The provision on its face is easy to understand. In sum, it states that operating a motor vehicle without possessing/carrying your license is not allowed. Taking the provision on its own, it stands to reason that if a license is surrendered to a village guard and the vehicle driver continues into the village, he or she is operating a motor vehicle in violation of the law, as such driver has lost possession of his or her license.
However, we should not forget that Section 19 is not the only provision of the Code. Since the said section prohibits operating a ‘motor vehicle’ without having your license, we should examine how the law defines ‘motor vehicle’. Section 3(a) of the Code defines a motor vehicle as “any vehicle propelled by any power other than muscular power using the public highways, xxx.” The term ‘public highways’ is emphasized with good reason.
When mentioning ‘motor vehicles’, the Code is referring to a vehicle that is using public highways. Employing the Code’s definition of motor vehicles, Section 19 will effectively state that ‘it shall be unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle propelled by any power other than muscular power using the public highways without possessing or carrying a valid license to drive’. Notably, Section 3(j) of the Code defines ‘highways’ as “every public thoroughfare, public boulevard, driveway, avenue, park, alley and callejon, but shall not include roadway upon grounds owned by private persons, colleges, universities, or other similar institutions.”
Private villages and subdivisions are of course private property and are not public highways or thoroughfares. One operating a motor vehicle in a private subdivision is driving a motor vehicle without using public highways. Hence, it can be said that it is not the ‘operation of a motor vehicle’ under the purview of Section 19 of the Code. Consequently, asking a driver to leave his or her license at gate of a private village cannot readily be said as asking that person to violate the law, since the roads the person is about to drive on are not the public highways mentioned by the Code.
What is more, Republic Act 9904 or the Magna Carta for Homeowners and Homeowners’ Associations allows such associations to ‘regulate access to, or passage through the subdivision/village roads to preserve privacy, tranquility, internal security, and safety and traffic order’, subject to certain requirements and guidelines under the law. The Supreme Court has defined the term regulate as ‘to fix, establish, or control; to adjust by rule, method, or established mode; to direct by rule or restriction; or to subject to governing principles or laws.’ The associations of private subdivisions are clearly empowered to regulate, without violating the law, the ingress and egress of visitors to the village.
One may certainly argue that the Code limits those that may confiscate your license to certain persons, and guards of private villages are not in the list. However, there is also nothing in the Code that prohibits the surrender of the license at the gate of the private subdivisions. Moreover, the nature of ‘confiscating’ a license under the Code relates to apprehension due to traffic violations, certainly not germane to the thought of leaving licenses at the gate of a village. There does not appear to be ‘confiscation’ when you surrender your license to a village guard.
Finally, while Section 56 of the Code does penalize the failure to carry one’s driver’s license while driving, this should be read in conjunction with Section 19 discussed earlier, or the provision that requires one to carry his or her driver’s license. This is in line with the long-standing doctrine that penal laws are strictly construed against the State and liberally in favor of the accused.
Why the Code decided to define motor vehicles in the context of public highway use is a matter for legislative historians to check on. What is notable though is that in other recent laws relating to motor vehicle use, such as the Anti-Drunk Driving Act and the Anti-Distracted Driving Act, a motor vehicle is defined without any qualifier on where it is operated on. The generational gap between the Code and more recent laws may have resulted in the latter having a broader definition of motor vehicle operation.
When asked next time by village security for your license, at least you would know that private subdivisions may have some basis for doing so.