Silver bullet or 30 pieces of silver?

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - February 13, 2021 - 12:00am

Listening to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Office (LTO), you’d think that the Motor Vehicle Inspection System (MVIS) carried out by Private Motor Vehicle Inspection Centers (PMVICs) was both vaccine and cure. “Road crash due to neglect of the motor vehicle’s road worthiness is a silent but more deadly epidemic than the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic... The proposed suspension is not beneficial to the people, is anti-life and detrimental to public health and safety.”

At the PMVIC program’s roll out/walk through last Dec. 21, 2020, the DOTr  boasted that this long standing statutory requirement is being implemented only now, 12 years after the law mandated it. Previously, we only had private emission (smoke belching) tests. But that addressed only the issue of pollution. The DOTr heralded this as proof of the administration’s political will.

Sorry but our senators and congressmen aren’t buying the spin. It’s not a “magic pill,” not a “cure it all,” says Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto. Rather, what we are seeing are worms named “money heist,” “racket,” “opportunity for business,” “highly suspicious” and “venue for corruption” slithering out of the opened can.

Speaking of political will, President Duterte has again demonstrated a surfeit of the same. Wednesday’s Senate investigation was supposed to culminate in a resolution to suspend the operation of PMVICs nationwide. But the President had heard enough. On Thursday, presidential spokesman Sec. Harry Roque announced that PRRD had duly countermanded the LTO requirement of mandatory PMVIC approval for registration. We await the formal issuance from his office for the exact parameters of the order. So there you have it. The problem, for now, has been solved.

Bingo! The President considered the impact of the pandemic and the current food price spirals in making his decision. But what exactly did they find at the Senate investigation that intensified the already deafening backlash?

Well, among others: (1) the privatization scheme creates an annual P8.1-billion corruption prone “downstream industry,” collecting fees more than 300 percent higher than the current rates. The profit and return on investment of these blessed private contractors is hugely disproportionate, considering the measly P100,000 annual licensing payment each remits to the LTO. At 458 prospective centers, that’s P45.8 million only to us, max. Is government really surrendering the giant windfall?

(2) The premature accreditation of PMVICs even before implementing regulations were issued. In December, the month of its announcement by the DOTr, already 17 of these “children of god” had been announced. There are now 23 of the planned 458 and we still have no clue on how they were chosen. No bidding, no consultations. New normal? Interestingly, the PMVIC-LTO agreements do not contain the usual anti-corruption provision disqualifying relatives of DOTr officials and employees. The only ban retained was against relatives of accreditation committee members;

3) The program would prioritize the inspection of more than 4 million private vehicles when it’s the 400,000 PUVs and trucks, more prone to mechanical breakdown and carrying more passengers and freight on the roads, that need urgent inspection. This should have been the pilot project;

4) The policy of the MVIS privatization was dictated by a shortage of funds. But the available motor vehicle user’s charge (MVUC) funds totaled P29.4 billion when the road board (that managed the MVUC) was abolished in 2019;

5) The questionable constitutionality of delegating regulatory functions to private contractors (PMVICs may be tapped to provide this service but not if they charge these exorbitant rates). Plus a matching equal protection of law dilemma: if you happen to reside in a place with a PMVIC, you would have been obliged to avail of the expense. If your city has no PMVIC just yet, then no requirement for you.
These are a few of the reasons why the PMVIC program has been challenged as illegal, unconstitutional and immoral.

Is it safe? Surprisingly, no one has questioned the regulation’s basic premise, that vehicle inspection translates to road safety. At the hearings, LTO officials were careful to present the experiences of Singapore, Japan, Korea, among others, to highlight how the MVIS rates in these countries far exceeded our proposed local rates.

But inspections abroad are less burdensome, not being required of new vehicles for the first five years. If older than five years, the re-inspection period is usually at 2-year intervals. Under the local LTO circular, it’s three years exemption for brand new cars, after which it becomes an annual test.

In the US, which has the most cars per capita (3rd in world, surpassed only by the tiny principality of Monaco and the microstate of San Marino), 35 of its 50 states have no such MVIS requirement. Some are moving to drop the requirement for being an unnecessary burden on vehicle owners.

In Utah, the 2017 repeal of the statewide MVIS requirement was instructive. They invoked a 2015 report of the US Government Accountability Office finding no conclusive evidence that motor vehicle inspections reduce accidents. While inspections discover and address safety concerns, these are mostly minor issues. Crash rates were about the same both in states that had and didn’t have the MVIS. In short, studies showed that vehicle inspection is a gut issue that makes you feel safe more than actually keeping you safe. You want to assign blame? Blame bad driving.

Our senators also targeted the LTO requirement of the mandatory submission of driving school certificates, for theoretical and practical driving classes, to earn your student license. You can get them in-house at your neighborhood LTO or from the private driving academies sprouting up. This is problematic as the law just requires that the applicant pass a driving test, not a driving class. Clearly, the LTO has imposed more than what the law dictates. With theoretical course fees now averaging P2,875, we are looking at a P7.5-billion annual market for these driving academies (which top the list of businesses allowed by the IATF to resume in GCQ areas.)

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