Friday, June 15, 2012

DOTC probes driver's license fiasco

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Transportation and Communications is investigating unauthorized changes made by a company supplying driver’s license cards to the Land Transportation Office, which prompted the LTO to suspend the issuance of licenses since Tuesday, DOTC Secretary Manuel Roxas II said yesterday.

“We understand the sentiment of our drivers seeking and renewing their licenses for the inconvenience caused by the temporary glitch at LTO,” Roxas said. “We are conducting an investigation why Amalgamated Motors Philippines, Inc. (AMPI) made the unauthorized change without our approval; we expect LTO operations back to normal before the end of the week.”

Roxas expressed support for LTO chief Virginia Torres’ decision to suspend the issuance of drivers’ license cards bearing the new design submitted by AMPI, which has not been approved by DOTC and the LTO.

“We directed all our regional offices to inform the public of the specific offices that are able to issue the regular driver’s license cards and those that are not able to do so,” Torres said.

She also said LTO branches not able to issue the regular cards “to issue temporary drivers’ licenses instead.”

Under the government’s administrative procedures, AMPI must follow the proper process in presenting a new design. The government must approve it, including the data that will be stored in the driver’s license, before it can be implemented nationwide.

New look, longer process

The LTO found that AMPI not only changed the look of the card, it also incorporated card lamination in the production process, making it a minute longer.

An LTO officer, who requested anonymity, explained that the one-minute addition is crucial since an LTO branch processes 300 or more license cards a day.

“For example, if one (LTO) office processes 300 cards a day, then that means an additional five hours in the production process and that is just for the lamination (of the new cards),” the source said.

AMPI spokesperson Melanie Cuevas said AMPI has not officially started the printing of new license cards. “The new cards are still in the testing phase. It is still open for changes,” she said.

Cuevas said the proposed new cards will have no additional cost to the government.

LTO executive director Alfonso Tan said a “system problem” occurred on Wednesday after the new software used by AMPI had a problem in producing the old cards. The new software was brought in supposedly in preparation for the time when the proposed cards are approved by the LTO, he said.

According to AMPI, the new license card will have more security marks and features.

Among these are the biometal foil at the back of the card, security fiber on the paper used for the card, and the embedded hologram that shows a “ghost image” of the card holder.

Expired contract

Roxas said AMPI’s contract to supply, produce and deliver the LTO driver’s license cards expired in 2006, but had been able to hold on to the deal because it got an injunction from a Quezon City regional trial court.

He added that despite the expiration of AMPI’s contract, the previous administration did not bother to bid out a new contract and allowed AMPI to supply license cards indefinitely.

Roxas said a bidding process for a new contract was launched in December 2010 but was stopped by an injunction issued by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Afable Cajigal of Branch 96. The same judge issued another writ of preliminary injunction just last June 1 that stopped the DOTC’s efforts to bid out a new P8-billion contract for a new LTO information technology infrastructure project.

The Office of the Solicitor General said the judge’s ruling is “an outrageous and flagrant violation of Republic Act 8975, which prohibits the issuance by lower courts of orders of injunction, among others, against national government infrastructure projects.” - By Rainier Allan Ronda and Reinir Padua