Why digital reforms gather dusts

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Barring any last minute hitches, the biometrics data encoded in the Philippine Identification System, or ePhilID for short, will soon be merged with drivers’ licenses issued by the Land Transportation Office (LTO). As the agency in charge of issuing drivers’ licenses, the LTO is currently on the finishing touches of merging its biometrics data with ePhilID under the digitalization program of the government supervised by the Department of Information and Technology (DICT).

LTO Assistant Secretary Vigor Mendoza II disclosed at the sidelines of our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday about such ongoing efforts. According to Mendoza, this project aims to link up the computerized drivers’ licenses of the LTO with that of the ePhilID being implemented by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

Since the two government-issued IDs basically contain the same individual information, Mendoza sees no problem with the merger of the biometrics of both the ePhilIDs and drivers’ licenses. Moreover, both IDs also contain QR codes, or “Quick Response.” QR codes are capable of storing lots of data and when scanned, it allows the user to access information instantly.

From the most recent talks between representatives of the LTO and the DICT, Mendoza was informed that the target implementation is tentatively set for launching before the Christmas holidays. Mendoza clarified though this will not replace either IDs in favor of the other. Each ID is a stand-alone.

As created by Republic Act (RA) 11055, the ePhilID can identify Filipinos assigned with registered numbers “for life” and use it in any day-to-day transactions. As mandated by RA 11055, the ePhilID does not replace any existing government identification cards that serve a purpose beyond identity authentication, such as the drivers’ licenses, Philippine passports, and the UMID of the Social Security System.

According to the PSA, they have issued 84.5 million Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) IDs even to newborn children as of October 18. Of this total, only 41,594,186 PhilID cards have so far been delivered physically. This has been largely due to the overly delayed delivery of PhilSys ePhilIDs to each and every Filipino who have registered and completed already their biometrics – including yours truly – but have yet to receive the physical ePhilID.

On the other hand, there are 13 million drivers’ licenses issued by the LTO all over the country as of 2019. Of that total running tally, 7.3 million hold professional driver’s licenses while the rest, or 5.7 million hold non-professional licenses. But from January to September this year, the LTO recorded only 7,829,058 drivers’ licenses, including licenses for student drivers and bus conductors.

According to Mendoza, the decrease can be traced to the fact that 1,888,812 more are holders now of LTO driver’s license with ten years of effectivity. Under RA 10930, Section 23 of the Land Transportation and Traffic Code of RA 4136 is amended to extend the validity period of drivers’ licenses up to five years. Since this law took effect in 2017, professional or non-professional drivers who do not violate the law or traffic regulations during the five-year period can renew their driver’s license for a validity of 10 years, “subject to the restrictions” of the LTO.

Once the biometrics of these two government-issued official IDs are merged, Mendoza pointed out, the LTO drivers’ licenses can be transformed, accepted and honored as “international” drivers’ license abroad.

More importantly, Mendoza stressed, the merging of biometrics of these two government-issued official IDs will save the government around P500 million a year in terms of extra costs of keeping separately the same biometrics data.

At the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum, Mendoza announced plans to reformat the 25-point LTO test questionnaires. He noted some of the questions in the existing LTO theoretical test contain questions that are not applicable to applicants. For example, he cited that he himself could not answer the question that pertains to driving trucks.

At the same time, the LTO chief wants to strictly implement the past requirement of practical driving test, especially for both the new applications and renewal of licenses. Mendoza vows to prioritize the reimposition of practical test for accident-prone motorcycle-riders. He sounded out private driving schools for possible deputation of their instructors and use of their respective driving tracks for such practical testing of applicants.

Amid incidents of “road rage” among drivers, Mendoza raised possible changes also in the LTO tests to include psychological assessment of applicants.

During the same news forum, the LTO chief admitted more than half or 60 percent of the total number of vehicles nationwide are unregistered, majority of which are motorcycles. Only 14 million out of the 38 million vehicles nationwide are registered, he rued.

Thus, the agency stands to lose about P37 to P38 billion this year if the same number of vehicles remains unregistered.

He conceded this was largely due to the lack of LTO’s capability to track down unregistered vehicles. Actually, it could readily be detected through RFID, or the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). The LTO-issued vehicle plates are encoded with RFID. (It replaced the previous LTO stickers attached to the plates after being registered.)

The RFID is a technology that uses radio waves detected by LTO “wide-angled” cameras. This enables the LTO to passively identify RFID-tagged plates and help track down vehicles registered to their owners. There are supposedly 600 camera units to be installed in key thoroughfares and roads.

Barely five months into office after he was appointed in July this year, Mendoza found out less than one half of these LTO camera units were installed and functional. The rest are stored unused at the LTO compound in Quezon City. Literally – or intentionally – these digital reforms are being made to gather dusts.

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