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Too many official cars, August 19, 1950

Too many official cars

August 19, 1950

By Filemon V. Tutay

Staff Member

SOME time ago, Vice-President Fernando Lopez was taken to task by Rep. Cipriano Allas, of Pangasinan, for allegedly using seven government cars. Quite naturally, Lopez was stunned. He has been vociferous against graft and corruption in the government and equally vocal against extravagant spending of the people’s money, and here he was being charged with something which he has openly condemned as against public policy.

After recovering from the shock, Lopez dictated a letter telling the Pangasinan legislator that since he became vice-president, he has been assigned only one official car, a model 1946 Packard which President Quirino used when he was vice-president. He also informed Allas that the other Lopez cars, while also bearing NO. 2 plates, are his own private property and are being operated and maintained with his own personal funds.

In addition the public should know that Lopez is using a privately-owned jeepster for official purposes. He pays the salary of its driver as well as its maintenance expenses. At a recent cabinet meeting, President Quirino directed Budget Commissioner Pio Joven to assign another official car to Lopez because when Quirino was vice-president he also had a small official car besides a big Packard. Obviously, the additional car was for the use of bodyguards. But, as everybody knows, Lopez does not have any bodyguards. The vice-president’s aid rides with him in his only official car.

Only two weeks ago, Lopez wrote Commissioner Joven and asked that the big and expensive Packard car assigned to him be replaced with a “smaller and cheaper one, like a Ford or a Chevrolet.” Not that Lopez does not love expensive cars. But he does not want them at the people’s expense. Among his private cars are a Lincoln Continental and a new 7-passenger De Soto, for the use of his family, and a huge Cadillac, which is reserved for the use of his guests in Iloilo.

But back to the charge of Representative Allas. Undoubtedly, he was motivated by the best of intentions and Lopez complimented him for it. But, to use football parlance, Allas kicked off with the wrong foot. He should have looked around a little closely and he would have found that this government is indeed top-heavy with so-called official cars.

According to Primo Villar, chief of the Motor Vehicles Office, the Philippine government is now operating and maintaining at least 4,000 vehicles. Budget Commissioner Joven himself estimated that the government spends an average of P6,000 a year on each of these cars. That means that government expenditures on official cars alone amount to the staggering total of around P24,000,000 a year. And that does not include the purchase price of the vehicles.

Due perhaps to our sadly depleted finances, high government officials finally awoke recently to this scandalous situation and decided to do something about it. Commissioner Joven initiated a move to limit the use of government cars to as few public officials as possible, and to sell such vehicles as are found in excess of those needed for official purposes. Rep. Miguel Cuenco, of the 5th district of Cebu, was quick to take the cue and last week introduced at the second special session of congress a bill “defining the officers who shall be entitled to use government motor vehicles or to receive an allowance in lieu thereof and providing for the sale of excess government motor vehicles.”

In the explanatory note to his bill, Cuenco said: “It is of common knowledge that government cars are being used by relatives and friends of public officials in going to schools, night clubs, theaters and markets. Such cynical contempt for the principle that public property must be used only for public purpose must be stopped.

“To minimize, if not totally stop, this scandalous misuse of public property and the consequent drain on our national coffers, this bill which would limit the use of such cars to only the highest ranking officials of our government is being introduced. The cabinet is empowered to determine what other officers and what government services may use government cars or to grant such officers an allowance in lieu thereof.

“All motor vehicles in excess of those authorized by this bill shall be sold at public auction to the highest bidder giving preference to the officers at present using them. A commission composed of responsible officials of the government is created to sell said cars.”

Under the bill, the President of the Philippines is authorized to use two government automobiles, as against the half dozen now at the disposal of President Quirino, and the following officials are authorized to use only one official car each: the vice-president, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House, the chief justice of Supreme Court, the president pro-tempore of the Senate, the speaker pro-tempore of the House, the majority floor leaders of both houses, the department secretaries, the chairmen of the committees on finance and on accounts of the Senate, the chairmen of the committees on appropriations and on accounts of the House, the department undersecretaries, the secretaries of both houses, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the chief of the constabulary.

Under the bill, the cabinet is empowered to “determine what other officers of the government shall be entitled to use for official business one government automobile each or to grant an allowance in lieu thereof. . .and to authorize the use of motor vehicles by any department, bureau, office, agency or instrumentality of the government” which the cabinet may deem proper.

The bill, if approved, would certainly reduce government expenses on official cars. But it is doubtful if the scandalous misuse of such vehicles will actually be stopped or even minimized. For it has become the rule rather than the exception to use these cars for purposes other than official. Some of those privileged to use—or misuse—government vehicles also seem to have the mistaken idea that cars with the distinctive P1 plates are exempt from the normal operation of traffic rules and regulations, as may be frequently witnessed on the streets of Manila.

And so, we have the questionable group of individuals, relatives and friends of government bigwigs, who sport around with low-numbered plates on their cars. It is a clear case of misrepresentation, but it is tolerated. They accomplish the trick by the simple expedient of registering their cars in the name of some friend or relative who happens to be a senator or a representative and they get a No. 7 or 8 plate as the case may be.

Utmost Courtesy

What is the motive behind this practice? In some instances, the reason may be just plain vanity. Others may derive some fun masquerading around as a big shot in the government, if they can avoid being mistaken for that official’s chauffeur. But the primary intention seems to be to avail themselves of the traditional “courtesy” of traffic police officers. For traffic cops are supposed to extend the utmost courtesy to people using cars bearing plate numbers from 1 to 12.

Strange though it may seem, not all the vehicles bearing those numbers are government cars. Most of the senators and representatives, who are assigned plates No. 7 and 8 respectively, but their own cars. Associate Justices of the supreme court, who are authorized to use No. 9, are not privileged to misuse government cars. Nor are the justices of the court of appeals, who use No. 10 plates, nor the members of the commission on elections, who have been assigned No. 11.

Nevertheless, as pointed out, the government is operating and maintaining 4,000 vehicles. Entirely too many.