Jaime Bautista

[Vantage Point] DOTr: Jaime Bautista’s cross (Part 2)

Val A. Villanueva

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Vantage Point] DOTr: Jaime Bautista’s cross (Part 2)

David Castuciano

The whole brouhaha, for me, is just like a sous chef who is leaving the kitchen because he couldn’t stand the heat, but blames the executive chef for the scorching flame

Read Part 1

On May 22, Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Jose Arturo Tugade announced his retirement from the agency effective June 1, citing a clash of management style with Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Jaime Bautista.

He couched his resignation in diplomatese, but his displeasure was in full public display. He said that, although he and Bautista wish to succeed in serving the public, “our methods to achieve that success differ,” which is why he is stepping down “to give the DOTr secretary a free hand to choose [someone with whom] he can work best.”

The whole brouhaha, for me, is just like a sous chef who is leaving the kitchen because he couldn’t stand the heat, but blames the executive chef for the scorching flame.

Tugade zeroed in on Special Order No. 2023-024, released in January 2023, which requires all procurement activities worth P50 million and above to be done by the DOTr central office. It was a move to preclude a repeat of highly questionable deals executed by previous LTO administrations, particularly the P3.8-billion contract for the supply of 15 million license plates which the Senate probed in 2021 for alleged corruption

According to Tugade, he had formed committees to procure plastic cards after the agency found that the volume of these materials was already at a critical level in November 2022.  However, this was affected by the DOTr order which outlined an internal policy to streamline administrative and procurement processes within the department and its attached offices, such as the LTO, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3), Philippine Railways Institute (DOTr-PRI), and the regional offices.

Tugade lamented that “the many achievements of the LTO…have been overshadowed by the shortage in the plastic cards for the driver’s license.”

To many disgruntled motorists, the LTO is the poster boy for inefficiency due to its inability to issue the license plates of motor vehicles that were bought several years back. While receiving your vehicle’s license plate may not be as dire an emergency as getting your flat tire fixed in the middle of the night or your motor vehicle’s engine conking out on a deserted road, you would rightfully expect to get your license plate within a reasonable amount of time. You have after all paid for it in advance, and not having one may raise the suspicion that you’re driving a stolen vehicle. 

Who wouldn’t be furious? My daughter bought her first car in 2016, but only got her set of license plates in March 2020, even though she had been dutifully paying for her periodic registration and insurance fees through those years. Many other motorists share my daughter’s experience. Year in and year out, however, Philippine motorists can only express in social media their exasperation and disgust over the long wait – more than four years for my daughter – that they have to endure before finally receiving their vehicle plates. 

To be fair to Tugade, these shortages had been the bane of the agency for the longest time, which even his father Arthur Tugade had failed to solve during his tenure as DOTr secretary from 2016 to 2022.

Driver’s license cards to be delivered in July

Just days after Tugade tendered his resignation, following the submission and opening of bids last Wednesday, May 24, the news came out that the first batch of around one million driver’s license cards is expected to be delivered as early as July with the balance of more than four million to be delivered by December.

The DOTr conducted the bidding after the LTO finally submitted on March 21 the terms of reference (TOR) for the bidding. The DOTr’s Centralized Bids and Awards Committee (CBAC) gave the prospective bidders one month to study the TOR and submit their bids. The bidding is for the supply of 5,220,000 pre-printed driver’s license cards which have been in short supply for the past several weeks. The shortage forced the LTO to issue temporary paper licenses.

Two bidders had passed the technical and financial component evaluation, with All Cards Incorporated submitting the lower bid of P176.856 million or P33.88 per license card. Banner Plastic Cards submitted a higher bid of P219.240 million or P42 per card. A third bidder, Peter John Enterprises, failed to submit a compliance requirement, but indicated it would file a request for reconsideration. The approved budget for the whole project was P240.12 million, or a unit cost of P46 per card. With the lowest bid, the government saves more than P63 million.

If All Cards passed the Technical Working Group’s (TWG) detailed evaluation and post qualification, Bautista’s move to conduct the procurement within DOTr’s ambit proves to be judicious. If everything goes as planned, the first batch of license cards are to be delivered within 60 days of the award of the contract and issuance of notice to proceed.

What then had caused the delay? Even as Tugade continues to vent his frustration in the media, Bautista remains silent. His office, however, has sent out an explanation why DOTr failed, as Tugade said, to previously conduct a bidding, although the budget for the procurement of motor vehicle plates and license ID cards was included in the General Appropriations Act approved on December 16, 2022.

Back then, LTO wasted precious time dilly-dallying. It should have conducted the pre-procurement activities and submitted the result to DOTr. It was only on March 21, 2023, that the documents were submitted, and the documentation was also incomplete.

Three separate meetings have since been held to address the problem, but to no avail. One problem is the provision that labor and materials must be sourced locally. There is something inherently wrong about that provision. For instance, polycarbonate, the raw material used in the manufacture of vehicle motor plates and license ID cards, is available only outside the country. Under that provision, no local manufacturer can meet the pre-qualification requirements.

Clearly, there is a need to revise the TOR to resolve the conflicts in the provision, of course without compromising government service. Tugade has glossed over the fact that the main source of the delay had been the displeasure of some bidders over the LTO’s seeming preference for a particular bidder to which the TOR provision was allegedly tailor fit. There was also a pending court case which dragged the Landbank of the Philippines into the mess. (More of this in my next column.)

Whatever the score is in this DOTr-LTO imbroglio, Tugade is clearly overstepping his bounds. He should have acknowledged his own shortcomings. Blaming his failure on somebody else, especially his superior officer, to get the public off his back is in bad form. (Read: Conclusion)

Val A. Villanueva is a veteran business journalist. He was a former business editor of the Philippine Star and the Gokongwei-owned Manila Times. For comments, suggestions email him at mvala.v@gmail.com.

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