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Light at the end of the tunnel

/ 05:09 AM April 30, 2018

It was in 1912 that the existing legislature under the United States passed the first formal law on land transportation. It was designed to regulate motor vehicles and provide for the regulation and licensing of operators. The law created an automobile section under the Bureau of Public Works. After a few years, the section was upgraded to a Motor Vehicle Office (MVO) with the category of a bureau.

With the rapid growth in the number of vehicles, the MVO was abolished and a Land Transportation Commission took over its functions. The commission was headed by a chairman, assisted by four commissioners. It was responsible for registration of motor vehicles, licensing of drivers, franchising of public utility vehicles, and enforcement of traffic rules and regulations.

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After the Edsa Revolution, the commission was abolished and two offices were created, namely, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, both under the Department of Transportation and Communications. There have been many twists and turns in the evolution of the LTO, but the promotion of safety and comfort in land travels has remained a primary commitment.

Last week the LTO marked its 106th anniversary, a date that goes back to American colonial rule when motor vehicles slowly replaced work animals as the means of movement for people traveling from place to place.

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During the last few years, one of the more serious problems faced by the LTO was its inability to provide motor vehicle
license plates after a car purchase was made. The most common indicator of the problem was the sign “No plates available” that was often seen in place of a car’s license plate. Although the problem existed in the past, it was fairly manageable with slight delays being encountered. However, midway during the term of President Benigno Aquino III, things got really out of hand.

Earlier a contract was signed awarding Power Plates Development Concepts Inc.-J. Knieriem BV-Goes (PPI-JKG) the job of providing LTO with some 15 million plates worth over P3 billion covering the period 2013-2018. The group was able to deliver 3.9 million plates but in July 2015, the Commission on Audit (COA) issued a notice of disallowance covering the transaction for various reasons. This resulted in the stoppage of payments that LTO had been making to PPI-JKG. At about the same time, the Bureau of Customs held some 700,000 plates at the waterfront for failure of the importer to pay taxes and duties. The plates, held in 11 container vans, were eventually abandoned by the importer due to financial difficulties brought about by the COA disallowance.

At this point, the backlog on vehicle plates started to grow until it reached 2.9 million car plates at the end of the Aquino administration. And here I am referring solely to car plates. At about the same time, the need for motorcycle plates rapidly rose with the popularity of motorcycles among the public. The clamor against government inaction was at its highest point.

Enter the Duterte administration.

Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade and LTO Assistant Secretary Edgar Galvante decided on a number of actions to address the growing problem of car plates.

First, Tugade ordered the transfer of P1 billion from DOTr funds for the immediate purchase of close to 2 million plates (for both cars and motorcycles). The contract was awarded to Trojan Computer Forms Manufacturing Corp. in joint venture with JH. Tonnjes E.A.S.T. GmbH.

Second, Tugade directed the LTO to redevelop its capability to make the plates in the country using as a starting point the machines that Trojan and company would bring in from Germany. Seven of these machines are now in place at the LTO compound on East Avenue in Quezon City. Even more advanced machinery that will triple the LTO’s production capacity is due to arrive in July. The LTO is currently working on possibly maintaining two eight-hour shifts to further increase output.

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Favorable resolution of the COA disallowance will also result in the release of additional funds for the acquisition of more plates.

By simple calculations using easily verifiable figures, the LTO could substantially wipe out the backlog inherited from the past and should be on track to provide car owners with plates upon purchase. This should take place before the end of 2018.

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Galvante retired from the Philippine National Police as deputy director general for operations. At one point in his career, he served as regional director for the Davao Region, an assignment that led to his meeting then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. When the mayor became President, Galvante joined his administration as head of the LTO. As he put it, “I did not apply for the job.”

When Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez called for his dismissal on the basis of unverified information, Galvante stood his ground saying he serves at the pleasure of the President and the moment the President tells him to go, he would leave immediately. This is one advantage of retired military officers serving in the current administration: They have the President’s full support. If rumors are to be believed, it is Alvarez who now feels threatened and insecure with rumors cropping up of an impending coup to unseat him being engineered by powerful political
figures around the President.

Galvante belongs to the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1970. Among his classmates serving in government are: Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Rep. Romeo Acop, and Gen. Ernesto Carolina, Philippine Veterans Affairs Office administrator. Col. Irwin Ver, son of former military chief Fabian Ver, was the class valedictorian.

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TAGS: Arthur Tugade, DOTr, Edgar Galvante, Land Transportation Office, license plates, LTFRB, Ramon Farolan, Reveille
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