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Roadworthiness inspection has been a prerequisite for every vehicle registration since Republic Act 4136, or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code, was enacted on June 20, 1964. This is the same law that established the Land Transportation Commission, today’s LTO. 

Often quoted in LTO Memorandum Circulars that involve motor vehicle inspections is Article III, Section 16 of the Act which states, “… any motor vehicle is found to be unsightly, unsafe, overloaded, improperly marked or equipped, or otherwise unfit to be operated, or capable of causing excessive damage to the highways, or not conforming to minimum standards and specifications, the Commissioner  may refuse to register the said motor vehicle, or if already registered, may require the number plates thereof to be surrendered to him, and upon seventy two hours notice to the owner of the motor vehicle, suspend such registration until the defects of the vehicle are corrected and/or the minimum standards and specifications fully complied with.” 

This catch-all provision has been the basis for so many LTO policies over the years.  The latest of which has been causing quite a stir among motorists.

In truth, it is the government’s duty, through the LTO, to ensure that every vehicle registered is worthy of the space it occupies on the road. The problem over the years was the piecemeal implementation of the inspection requirement. This has seen the proliferation of unsafe, dangerous, dilapidated, unkempt and, for lack of a better word in the vernacular, “bulok” vehicles on the road. 

The corrupt practice of non-appearance registrations over the years just made the matter worse for everyone. Thus the basis of the Department of Transportation, under which the LTO is  attached, to right a wrong.  

Starting this January, all vehicles must pass inspection at LTO-accredited Private Motor Vehicle Inspection Centers (PMVIC). Back in November 2018, the agency released Memorandum Circular 2018-2158 outlining the guidelines for the authorization and operation of PMVICs to assist it in enforcing its mandate of motor vehicle inspections. This despite reportedly receiving an P800 million budget allocation to purchase and upgrade equipment of its own Motor Vehicle Inspection sites around the country. The logic of the DOTr through the LTO was, it can no longer wait for delays in procurement and government bureaucracy to implement its mandate. Thus the need to tap private investors to help the office do its job.

The LTO has thus been tasked to accredit PMVIC applicants based on the completeness of their submission of requirements for accreditation. And according to MC 2018-2158, there are at least 19, including a minimum P10 million bond and a P50,000 application fee. But that is just peanuts compared to what these private companies are said to be investing for purchasing the testing equipment and upgrading their facilities to the standard of the LTO directive, which is at least P60 million. 

The power to authorize a PMVIC to operate, and there will be 138 of them to be set up nationwide, rests on the LTO. A PMVIC proponent may even have up to three centers under its account. And with the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that ply highly urbanized areas in the country, this will be a guaranteed return on investment over a period of time. And yes, the P1800 inspection and P900 re-testing fees for cars and P600 testing and P300 re-testing rates for motorcycles are  prescribed in the memorandum as well. 

For all its well-meaning intention of ridding our roads of unroadworthy vehicles, what really pains the motorist about the LTO though is being forced yet again to cough up money. Money that is already hard to come by due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And then pay for a service that is supposed to be under the government’s charge and which was done for free through LTO’s own Motor Vehicle Inspection sites. Well the two of them that operated anyway.

And again, we have been forced by the LTO and the DOTr to accept a measure that is now showing its flaws and shortcomings. The lack of operational testing centers, false readings, inexperienced testing machine operators, lack of real-time connectivity as mandated by the PMVIC guidelines, as well as the haphazard implementation where the system is not yet ready for roll out. Just because it is January, the start of car registration season.

Mind you this is the same LTO that has been derelict in its duty to inspect motor vehicles from the onset. The same LTO that has allowed the proliferation of unqualified drivers through years of licensing shenanigans, and the same office that can’t even enforce a red stop light in front of its main office at East Avenue at night. The same LTO that was complicit in registering smuggled imported vehicles from Cagayan, Subic, Cebu and other ports. The same LTO that cannot even give out plate numbers and car registration stickers on time, despite collecting money from motorists every year. 

Over the last few months, the DOTr and the LTO have been telling the public that this was coming this January 2021. But again, as they have shown in the past, losing the Communication aspect of the DOTr’s former DOTC portfolio has once again seen a public ill-informed, unaccepting, unwilling and, because of a raging pandemic, is unable to afford change. Even if it is for their common good.

And to add insult to injury to the motorist, public utility vehicles, buses, jeepneys, and taxis are not even among the vehicles that require to pass PMVIC testing. What kind of vehicles do we see on the news involved in sensational accidents caused by mechanical  failure again? The creaky buses, the unsightly and rusting jeepneys, the worn down taxis. And yet these are not part of this PMVIC scheme or should we say were not prioritized when in fact these are some of the most obvious that need inspection and outright removal from our roads.

Should not these vehicles be the ones who should first undergo this roadworthiness trial? Any decent motorist who notices something wrong with his vehicle’s performance, will find a way to have it fixed somehow. Contrast that with old jeepneys and taxis that are kept on running by their owners or operators until they stop dead on their tracks.  

The DOTr and the LTO, with all their good intentions of correcting past mistakes, is making new ones as they move forward to fulfilling their promise to provide a comfortable life to the people. The rush to force change is causing undue resistance along the way. 

Both government agencies should instead begin with cleaning the bureaucratic inefficiencies that continue to hound their offices around the country. Where are our plate numbers? Some cars have not received theirs for four years already. Where are our car stickers which we already paid for years ago? Can they show us where all our road taxes have gone over the years as well?

If LTO were a private company, it would have been sued by the public for gross inefficiency and non-performance of its mandated duties. 

Maybe perhaps that’s the answer. Privatize the LTO. Take its function away from the government. Make it accountable to those it is providing services for – the people. 

If DOTr had to resort to contracting  private enterprises to handle motor vehicle inspections for the LTO, then let these firms be accountable for their mistakes, shortcomings and inefficiencies. Open them to suit. Do not let them hide under the cloak of government ineptitude, or a waiver and a quit claim as what they are doing with motorists who avail of their services now. 

Bottom line is regaining trust in the government. That it can come up with a proper plan, iron out all the kinks beforehand and  then, only then, roll out the implementation in a systematic, analytical, data feedback-intensive way that will hardly have a negative impact on the daily lives of motorists. 

With what we have seen with the boorish implementation of the EDSA Carousell bus rapid system, the concrete barriers along EDSA, the unilateral relaxation of social distancing rules in public transportation, the closing of U-turn slots, and of course, the 100% cashless RFID toll payment scheme, motorists are looking like they are again on the short end of the stick with the PMVIC implementation this January. 

The DOTr has 527 days to go to fulfill that promise of a comfortable life for Filipinos. With what has been happening, we are not holding our breaths.

Photo lifted from MVIC social media sites

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