There’s nothing like cruising on a dark deserted highway and feeling safe with those factory-installed LED lights. Like a torch, these high-lumen apparatus cut through the night like God’s very lightning.
LED lighting carries a lot of benefits. First, LED consumes far less power than halogen. The carbon footprint is minimized. Second, LED illuminates the road far enough to provide safe braking distance. Perfect for those Oh God moments when a granny crosses the road.
Then like blue lightning, the LTO bans the god-sent device:
Read that memo a second time. Not only is the safety-conscious consumer deprived of his LED lights, he is also barred from “all other modifications” as stated by Att. Roberto Cabrera III in the memo.
But wait. is this legal? Can government arbitrarily impose restriction on private property considering that Sec 1 of the Constitution provides:
Section 1. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.
Government exercises broad police powers to upohold public welfare. Hence, government can restrict the use of property by law, ordinance or memorandum when:
- the restriction is vested with public interest and a proper objective that applies to all.
- the restriction is reasonable and does not trample constitutionally-granted rights to achieve its objectives.
- the restrictions delineate precisely what is to be followed by the law-abiding public.
On all grounds, the LTO memorandum fails. The inescapable conclusion is that the restriction is unconstitutional.
Let’s look at each factor.
Laws must be vested with public interest
The LTO premises the ban on alleged road safety. The agency asserts with the ban, fewer accidents will occur- after all, blinding running-LED lights make you squint in the daytime as those beautiful Audi TTs cruise by in high noon.
But wait. There are no published LTO statistics to show that LED lights are the leading cause of accidents and traffic violations. A whopping 0% of reports described Toyota86s running into trees because of sexy white lights.
What then is the purpose for including LED lights in the restriction?
Laws must not unnecessarily trample on property rights
Government may take property through the process of expropriation if the same is done for public good or the taking abates a nuisance. In most cases, there must be just compensation and due process in the taking, destruction or restriction.
The restriction of LED lights, particularly on those vehicles with factory-installed units throw hapless owners into quagmire. Can they use the car with built-in LED? Or should they spend a hefty fee to have them removed.
Property rights are definitely infringed. What makes it all so onerous for the owner is that these legitimate devices have been rendered illegal with no reasonable objective.
The LTO Memorandum is Void For Severe Vagueness
Elementary in law-making is that the statute clearly identify legal boundaries. All laws that are vague can be impugned and rendered void.
Simply put, if a person of ordinary intelligence cannot determine what persons are regulated, what conduct is prohibited, or what punishment may be imposed under a particular law, then the law will be deemed unconstitutionally vague. The Philippine Supreme Court has said that no one may be required at peril of life, liberty, or property to speculate as to the meaning of a penal law. Everyone is entitled to know what the government commands or forbids.
The void for vagueness doctrine advances four principles. First, the doctrine encourages the government to clearly distinguish conduct that is lawful from that which is unlawful. Due Process Clauses mandate that individuals be given adequate notice of their legal obligations so they can govern their behavior accordingly. When individuals are left uncertain by the wording of an imprecise statute, the law becomes a standardless trap oppressive enforcers.
The LTO Memorandum bans “LED lights” and “all other modifications” in a sweeping manner. There are no standards set on the luminous intensity of LED, whether the device is integrated on the headlamp, added as a roof-top accessory or even mounted on the dome light. If you mount your laptop or cellphone on your dashboard, you open yourself to arrest as the device utilizes a LED screen. Which leads us to an even bigger problem.
Because the regulation is unnecessarily broad, sweeping and vague, motorists will be subject to selective, arbitrary and oppressive arrests. The memorandum, after all, allows the officer to exercise discretion to interpret what a violation is.
Vagrancy: A Similar Case
The US vagrancy case of Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, (405 U.S. 156, 92 S. Ct. 839, 31) is landmark and often discussed in Philippine Law schools and relates to the LTO memorandum.
Vagrancy is a crime that is frequently regulated by lawmakers despite difficulties that have been encountered in defining it. In Papachristou, the Supreme Court struck down an ordinance that prohibited “loafing,” “strolling,” or “wandering around from place to place” because such activity comprises an innocuous part of nearly everyone’s life. The Court concluded that vagrancy cannot be equated with “loafing” or “strolling” as the ordinance did not provide society with adequate warning as to what type of conduct might be subject to prosecution.
“Vagrancy” cannot be equated to “loafing” ; it is is void for vagueness.
The LTO “all other modifications” describes nothing. It is void for vagueness.