My LTO saga

By: Cielito F. Habito - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | May 02,2023 - 08:00 AM

It has been eight years since I paid P450 to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for new car license plates under its Motor Vehicle License Plate Standardization Program. Like me, millions have yet to see their plates. With hindsight, LTO should have returned our money, and just charge us again once they do come, God knows when.

Now we hear that the LTO aims to clear 90 percent of the plates backlog, last reported to exceed 11 million, by year-end—but then we’ve heard that song before. Can LTO chief Jose Art Tugade pull it off this time? Seeing his recent video message now making the rounds, I’d like to believe he could make a difference. I’ve noted his expressed commitment to remove unnecessary burdens (“alisin ang mga bagay na pabigat”) to motorists, particularly in the issuance of licenses and registrations by this traditionally dysfunctional agency. He promises more announcements on this, upon canceling the need for periodic medical exams under the new 10-year driver’s licenses. I find his statement refreshing, having constantly vented my own frustration in this column over how our government bureaucrats have elevated throwing more and more hurdles in people’s way into an art, never mind how redundant, irrelevant, or useless these may be.

I still recall when I first applied for my driver’s license. My examiner ended my practical test and passed me as soon as I had released the clutch in first gear and moved the vehicle a few feet forward. I dutifully filled in my answers to the written test, only to see the checker rapidly and seemingly randomly put check and X marks on my test paper, and without counting, marked it “82.” Subsequently, I would visit the LTO every year for renewal, always an ordeal that took most of one’s day. I can still picture the burly and intimidating LTO cashier who, before finally handing over your new license, would offer you a plastic case for it for P20 (when street vendors sold it for only P2 then)—and from his body language, it was an offer I dared not refuse.

At some point, they required reflectors—yellow in front and red in the rear—to register a vehicle, but they somehow stopped looking for it after a while. Then came those triangular early warning devices or EWDs, with specifications seemingly tailored to fit certain manufacturers when first introduced—probably owned, many of us guessed, by LTO officials themselves.

And then they required drug and medical tests for driver’s licenses. Once, when I took the P250 drug test at the adjacent private “lab,” they had already typed out my test result even before I handed over my urine sample. I had to pay P50 at another “clinic” to get a cursory eye test. The controversial drug test was later scrapped, but the “medical exam”—still mainly an eye test—remained at P250, even rising to P500 around some LTO branches. In my “medical exam” as I renewed my license last year, the aide simply made me read off letters from her computer screen from my seat, took my weight on a battered cheap bathroom scale, and my height with a makeshift wall ruler. What galled me was how she simply asked what my blood pressure was last time I had it taken, then wrote it down on the form. The “doctor” never left her desk across the room, concealed behind a cloth divider, and simply engaged me in brief small talk from the distance without even bothering to leave her desk and show me her face. For that, I paid P350.

I trust that among Tugade’s promised forthcoming announcements is a stop to this non-LTO racket that a motoring magazine has called “the most legal scam in the country today.” To be fair, LTO has improved through the years, and its new Land Transport Management System online portal promises to further curb opportunities for corruption and ease transactions. They would do well to devise a better way to test drivers’ visual acuity, perhaps within the LTO process itself. If Tugade indeed harnesses his people’s creativity to reduce, not throw more “pabigat” in the public’s way and be a model for the rest of government’s frontline services—and yes, get us our new plates this year—then he would truly earn my highest respect.

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TAGS: driver's license, license plates, LTO, Tugade
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