Land Transportation Office

Driver’s license shortage exposes messy transitions between LTO heads

Lance Spencer Yu

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Driver’s license shortage exposes messy transitions between LTO heads
(1st UPDATE) Disagreements, resignations, and messy turnovers are complicating the shortage in driver’s licenses, causing a record backlog of nearly 700,000 cards

MANILA, Philippines – The ongoing shortage of driver’s license cards has sent the Land Transportation Office (LTO) scrambling for solutions: from issuing temporary paper licenses to extending the validity of driver’s licenses. But the issue – already passing the hands of three LTO heads – has been months in the making. 

Since the driver’s license mess began making headlines, the LTO and Department of Transportation (DOTr) have been pointing fingers at each other for the cause of the shortage.

Then-LTO chief Jose Arturo Tugade claimed that the agency was ready to procure by December 2022 before a special order issued by the DOTr “stopped all procurement activities.” This special order – issued on January 25, 2023 – required all procurement activities over P50 million to be handled by the DOTr Central Office.

Meanwhile, the DOTr said that it was finding ways to speed up the purchase of license cards, after LTO’s “failure to undertake early procurement activities in compliance with existing rules.”

These disagreements peaked when, a few weeks back, Tugade resigned as head of the LTO, pointing to the driver’s license issue and “differences” with Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista. 

New head, old problems

Hector Villacorta has since stepped in as the offer-in-charge starting June 1, but it seems that the agency’s new head must find his own way through a messy turnover.

“There was no turnover of documents or any lecture on ‘these are the things that are pending,’” Villacorta said during a Senate hearing on Thursday, June 8. “I just smiled when he said ‘you are bound to fail in this office.’”

“There was a 15-minute coffee, and that was all – except to say that I should have not taken the post,” he added.

Villacorta, who is the third head of the LTO under the Marcos administration, faces the daunting task of solving the driver’s license shortage.

Kawawa naman si Acting Secretary Villacorta. Para flying blind ito eh (I feel bad for Acting Secretary Villacorta. It’s like flying blind) – almost like wishing him failure,” Senator Grace Poe said during the Senate hearing. “I think part of the responsibility of accepting a position in government is to be able to provide a smooth transition to the next administration.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that procurement of the driver’s licenses was hampered by a turnover. 

Teofilo Guadiz III, the LTO chief who served before Tugade, said that he was aware of the dwindling supply of driver’s license cards – something he had been tackling before he was replaced.

“We did do our job during my three-and-a-half months of stay with the Land Transportation Office. We have commenced with the technical working group. We’re about 75% done when I was replaced as head of the Land Transportation Office,” Guadiz said during the Senate hearing.

He said that he submitted the documents and studies to Tugade’s team before he left, with the “final request” to monitor the driver’s licenses and license plates.

“The person who replaced me took his oath on a Monday. And on a Tuesday, nandoon na po siya sa office ko (he was already at my office) and requested that I vacate my office on a Wednesday,” Guadiz said, referring to Tugade.

Tugade did not attend the Senate hearing, prompting senators to issue a subpoena against him. 

How bad is the shortage?

As the months drag on with no supplier yet finalized, the backlog of driver’s licenses has only continued to climb.

As of May 2, the LTO set the backlog at 234,149. Now, the figure stands at around 690,000 – the most ever recorded – according to the latest data from the DOTr. This means that in the span of around a month, an additional backlog of more than 450,000 license cards has accumulated.

Meanwhile, the limited supply left is dwindling by the day.

“Right now, meron nang shortage ng (there is a shortage of) driver’s licenses. As of today, we have only around 70,000 ID cards available nationwide and we are reserving this for OFWs,” DOTr Secretary Bautista said during the Senate hearing.

So what could have been done to avoid the shortage? According to the DOTr, the LTO could have started procuring driver’s license cards as early as August 2022. 

Puwede na pong mag-early procure considering that the NEP (National Expenditure Program) is already submitted to Congress and kailangan na rin pong mag-procure dahil mauubos na rin po ‘yung mga IDs, which are needed for 2023,” he said.

(You could do early procurement considering that the NEP is already submitted to Congress, and you need to procure because the IDs are already running out, which are needed for 2023.)

Instead, the LTO failed to submit the terms of reference until March 21. It was only after that point that the DOTr could proceed with the procurement process. 

Currently, Bautista said that the department was finalizing the procurement for the plastic cards, with a lowest bidder already identified.

“If we will be able to finalize this, if we will qualify the lowest bidder, we should be able to get maybe 500,000 licenses in July,” he said. –

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.