"In the end, it's Filipinos who end up as the losers here."
Since the creation of the Department of Transportation in 2017, Secretary Arthur Tugade, the first to be appointed to head the agency, has been very vocal about modernizing the transport sector in the Philippines, both public and private.
We have seen numerous attempts at fixing the problems of land transportation in the country the past four years, many succeeding while some failing. The success can be attributed to the no nonsense approach of the division heads who have taken their jobs seriously, despite strong opposition for change from many of the more influential and powerful forces of our society.
Take the trains and railway system. The LRT and MRT systems have been rehabilitated and have performed respectably, providing almost-perfect service to hundreds of thousands of commuters with ease and comfort.
The PNR and the Northrail projects have seen surprising improvements with the PNR of southern Metro Manila delivering much better service whole the Northrail project for northern Metro Manila that goes to Clark and further north is well on its way to completion.
Even Metro Manila has received its share of improvements with public transportation now more logical and rational as opposed to the old “bara-bara” system of bus deployment. The EDSA carousel busway decreased travel time for bus commuters by more than 70 percent, from a harrowing three hours end to end to now an average of 45 minutes.
With all these developments, what confounds me is that the Land Transportation Office automation project seems to have stopped somewhere at the starting point.
In 2018, the Land Transportation Management System (LTMS) was initiated by LTO Director Edgar Galvante to make transactions much easier, secure and transparent. Galvante believed that by taking physical transactions away from human hands, the agency could minimize if not totally eliminate corruption.
And it proved to be true. Drivers’ license application and renewal became so much easier and faster because of the LTMS system. LTMS is more than three times faster than the legacy system in processing the applications. Even motor vehicle registration experienced renewed ease of transaction when done through the LTMS.
However, today, the LTMS program seems to be reaching a snag. Low-level officials from LTO inform us that there have been numerous attempts to discredit the system, which have been very useful to these officials because it made their jobs easier and less corrupt.
Apparently, some executives under Galvante have been blocking the permanent installation of the LTMS system nationwide because it will not benefit their pockets. In fact, even after two successful User Acceptance Tests (UAT) in 2019 these executives want a third test despite the fact that the system is working and being used by the public already since early last year.
Add to this the fact that a previous, discredited IT provider (whose contract expired in 2019 and has been replaced by a new provider from Germany) continues to run a parallel service for LTO undermining the efforts of the new group. This same IT provider was the owner of the compromised website that gave away motor vehicle details to anyone who asks for it.
The biggest failure of the LTO executives to date is their agreement to allow private servers and contractors to interface with the LTMS system. This permits them another set of fees charged to the consumer. In the meantime, a couple of shadow databases are built up under control of external parties with highly sensitive data of LTO clients.
What charges? The same questionable “computer fee” that used to be charged by the old IT service provider.
Under the new IT service provider, all computer-based transactions for the Motor Vehicle Inspection system, online doctors certification and online drivers license processing are free of charge when they connect directly to the new LTMS.
But the executives under Galvante inserted a provision in the implementing rules and regulations where third-party service provider for LTO can use its own programs and database to connect with the LTMS.
These third-party providers will of course charge the consumers a fee for their services. A service that is already provided by the new group and is free of charge. That service cost the motoring public some 5.4 billion pesos last 2020 alone.
And who would be the ideal IT service company that third party provider of MVIS, drivers license schools and medical certification service go to? The previous LTO IT service provider, of course!
They have been running a shadow operation inside the LTO even if their contract has expired, violating a number of national laws including profiting from a government agency without the proper contract.
I wish I were wrong and I would be happy to be corrected. Because in the end, the loser here would be the public, who will have to cough up billions of pesos to make the shadow IT provider richer and line the pockets of some LTO executives who cannot let go of their old ways.
In this situation, one is forced to ask, is the LTO really serious in its modernization efforts or are some of its executives simply buying time until this present administration has left office?
Remember that the LTMS contract was for P3.1 billion only and this includes maintenance for five years already. This project and the amount can save the Filipino public an estimated P9 billion annually in computer transaction fees. This is an amount that could easily be shared by corrupt officials in the LTO.