SC denies petition vs LTO’s driver’s license deal

Neil Jayson Servallos - The Philippine Star
SC denies petition vs LTO�s driver�s license deal
The LTO began issuing five-year driver’s licenses in August 2017, following the signing of Republic Act 10930 by former president Rodrigo Duterte, which extended the validity of driver’s licenses from three to five years.
Philstar.com / Irish Lising

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has denied a petition filed by former lawmaker Aniceto Bertiz III to stop the issuance of driver’s licenses with five-year validity (DLC), stating that the use of the Land Transportation Office (LTO)’s budget from 2016 to supplement the 2017 budget for driver’s license issuance is not unconstitutional.

Bertiz had filed a petition in 2017 seeking a temporary restraining order against the LTO’s P829.6-million driver’s license deal, which he claimed was unconstitutional.

He accused the executive branch, including Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade, and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, of committing grave abuse of discretion by entering into an anomalous deal in December 2016.

The petition in question was filed in relation to the procurement of 8,360,000 driver’s license cards. The contract was awarded to a joint venture between Nettix, Dermalog Identification Systems, and CFP Strategic Transaction Advisors after they submitted a bid of P829,668,053.55.

The LTO began issuing five-year driver’s licenses in August 2017, following the signing of Republic Act 10930 by former president Rodrigo Duterte, which extended the validity of driver’s licenses from three to five years.

Bertiz had claimed that the bidding for the DLC project was rigged and manipulated because the contract was awarded in April 2017 to the Dermalog-Nettix-CFP joint venture.

He argued that the other two bidders – Banner Plasticard Inc. and PCCW Solutions Philippines Inc., and Kolonwel and PT Pura – were unlawfully disqualified.

The SC refused to determine whether the bidding process was proper, saying “the resolution of such issues necessarily involves settling questions of fact. This Court is not a trier of facts.”

SC justices, however, said Bertiz failed to show that the LTO committed grave abuse of discretion in terms of the bidding.

The former lawmaker also argued that the public expenditure of more than P829 million for the 2017 DLC Project, without a specific appropriation under a General Fund and without an indicated period or year, is unconstitutional.

He added that the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2016 did not allocate any amount for the 2017 DLC Project, stressing that the P686 million in the 2016 budget for the “issuance of driver’s license and permit” did not apply to the five-year license deal.

He also argued that the supposed expenditure for the 2017 DLC Project exceeds the corresponding appropriation under the 2017 GAA.

However, denying Bertiz’s petition against the commencement of the bidding even without legally appropriated funds, the SC said his assertions against the “anomalous deal” were refuted by the text of the 2016 GAA itself.

“Following the clear terms of Section 65 of the 2016 GAA, any unspent balance from this appropriation can be released and obligated ‘for the purpose specified, and under the same special provisions applicable thereto,’ for a period extending to one fiscal year after 2016, that is, until the end of 2017,” the SC wrote in a decision promulgated on March 22.

“The LTO, therefore, was acting well within the bounds of law when it supplemented the appropriation for its 2017 DLC Project with the balance of its 2016 appropriation for the same purpose,” it added.

Regarding Bertiz’s concern about the lack of indication on the funding period or year for the 2017 DLC Project, the SC said “he has not shown, by any evidence on record, that funds for the 2017 DLC Project were actually paid out of the General Fund and not from the appropriation under the 2017 GAA, as supplemented by the balance for the same purpose from the previous year.”

However, the SC noted that the LTO made a mistake by referring to the General Fund as the funding source for its 2017 DLC project, since unspent funds from the 2016 GAA appropriation will only revert to the General Fund at the end of 2017.

“Considering, however, the existence of sufficient funds as a consequence of the continuing appropriation specifically earmarked by Congress for the issuance of driver’s licenses and permits, we do not find the LTO’s error so grievous as to constitute grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack, or excess, of jurisdiction,” it added.

The LTO has been issuing five-year driver’s licenses for nearly six years now, and the SC’s decision means that it can continue to do so.

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