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No Free Lunch

More hurdles

/ 05:26 AM January 11, 2019

They did it again. Our transport authorities, through the Land Transportation Office (LTO)—which I have previously described as having mastered the art of making life harder for the public it serves, while creating a profitable captive market for some very lucky providers—has managed to make itself the object of a new round of public anger and exasperation.

We’ve been through those red and yellow reflectors that they made us stick at the front and rear of our cars as a requirement for registration or renewal thereof, back in the 1970s. Then came the triangular reflectorized “early warning devices” that they again made a requirement for registration. Good that they didn’t officially require us to buy those green or red plastic jackets when they shifted from the old laminated paper driver’s licenses to the Polaroid plastic cards. But the LTO office I used to get my driver’s license from had one enterprising (nay, profiteering) employee actually selling them at P10 each back then when street vendors were hawking them for P2. And being the guy who finally handed you your license after you’ve patiently waited for it to move from table to table, he had a way of making you feel you had no choice.

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My more recent pieces on the LTO had been on the superfluous and perfunctory “medical exam” we had to pay P250 to P350 for, where you read a few letters on a Snellen eye chart, and little more. Ask any driver’s license applicant, and that mandatory and pricey “exam” looked more like a fabulous moneymaking venture for the lucky “clinic” authorized to locate near the premises of the LTO branch. A motoring magazine called it “the most legal scam in the country today.”

Well, LTO has made a move to change that. The problem is that it did the exact opposite of what one would have thought to be the right solution, which is to eliminate the test altogether for nonprofessional drivers. I’ve asked around and looked it up, and it appears that other countries, including Asean neighbors and more advanced ones like the United States and Australia, do not require a medical exam of all driver’s license applicants, but only for commercial drivers and those over 70 years of age. Well, not in the Philippines, where every single applicant for a driver’s license, student driver’s permit and even conductor’s license must obtain the medical clearance.

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And so, motorists needing to renew their licenses had a New Year surprise: Medical clearances must now be transmitted to LTO online by accredited clinics. The new LTO Memorandum Circular No. 2018-2157 dated Nov. 16, 2018, issued new guidelines for the medical certificate, accreditation of medical clinics and registration of physicians. The guidelines, all 37 pages of them including annexes, look like the typical handiwork of a consummate regulator determined to throw as many hurdles as possible in the way of license applicants, clinics and doctors.

I’m told there are only 19 accredited clinics in Metro Manila to date, each of which can handle 60 applicants per day at eight minutes each, or a total of 1,140 applicants per day all over the city. There are supposedly 2 million license holders in Metro Manila. Dividing that by 260 working days per year times five years (the validity of the new licenses), that’s an average of over 1,500 applicants per day, well above the current capacity of the system—not to mention internet connection failures that further slow down the system. No wonder CNN has reported an outcry from driver’s license applicants. But here’s the catch: Applicants must still bring a printed copy of the medical certificate to the LTO “for validation.” And I thought information technology was meant to eliminate the need for paperwork? So what do we gain here?

What is generally required elsewhere, and what most people agree we need to strengthen here, is a driver education program to instill proper driving habits among those licensed to drive. A “whereas” clause in the LTO memo circular asserts the need for driver’s licenses to be issued only to those physically and mentally fit to drive. I think most people will agree that it is the latter that we in the Philippines ought to be more rigid about.

cielito.habito@gmail.com

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TAGS: LTO, opinion, Philippines, Transportation
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