For several months now, the entire province of Oriental Negros is bothered by this seemingly divisive dilemma among motor riders and local officials in relation to the mandatory wearing of helmets imposed upon by a national law. This issue stemmed from the persistence of the local Land Transportation Office (LTO) upon orders from higher ups to implement in full Republic Act 10054 otherwise known as the “Motorcycle Helmet Act of 2009”, which provides for the mandatory use of protective helmets when plying the roads and meting penalties thereof for any violations. This was however faced with strong opposition from no less than the Governor Degamo and Dumaguete City Mayor Sagarbarria citing several exemptions, and other stakeholders (motor riders, owners, shops, motor groups). Dumaguete City alone is regarded as the “Motorcycle Capital of the Philippines”.
The LTO, through its local chief Roland Ramos was puzzled as to why Dumaguete City local officials are against this statute when this is for the common good of motorists and effective to LGUs elsewhere. Local officials cited that while they have regards for safety, use of motorcycles in the city is for practical purposes and may not necessarily require helmets, especially for short distance trips. Still, the LTO insists on their prior responsibility to imposed a standing national law.
Recently, the issue has reached further complications when some lawyers and officials filed a legal action before the court to render the law unconstitutional citing violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Indeed, this issue has been elevated to prominence as a battle of sorts- convenience vs safety, between freedom of choice vs imposing a law, and keeping with customs vs accepting change. In a broader context, this is also a battle of supremacy between national law vs local conditions, thus applicability, not to mention prior consultation. Asserting that helmets are being used as cover by street criminals is also a point of debate. And there are also other existing statutes that are challenged at the LGU level, prominently on issuing mining permits.
My take: While I myself am riding a motorcycle, and grew in a motor-riding family, what made sense to me is the fundamental intent and logic of the law, which is safety. I have known many motorcycle-related accidents in our place, and have always pondered of, should they wear protective gear/s at once, perhaps they would have survived, if not minimized injuries. Meanwhile, upholding safety over convenience has been proven already in other LGUs, such as in Metro Manila and Laguna (particularly in Industrial areas) where motorcycles are equally thriving as mode of transportation. This is one thing that the LTO has to communicate well to the stakeholders. Now on the security issue, I believe it’s a matter that the PNP and LGU have to address in a different approach separately, for one, there are more deaths by accidents than by crimes involving riding-in-tandem alone. Most of all, while local officials challenge this in court, they are still bound to abide by an existing law. After all, ‘the law excuses no one, or none at all’.
*Photo from negroschronicle.com