The national government’s push to strengthen road safety by requiring all vehicles to undergo stringent inspection as part of the annual registration process has turned out to be a daunting challenge for Palawan to comply with, given its scale and geographic isolation.
As early as three years ago, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) issued a directive requiring all vehicles to submit to a mandatory motor vehicle inspection system (MVIS), replacing the existing smoke emission tests required as part of the vehicle registration or renewal process under the Land Transportation Office.
However, since the issuance of this new directive by the DOTr, the local LTO office has yet to fully comply with it. It has to rely on a single privately run testing center based in Puerto Princesa City to perform the rigorous tests required under the new procedure.
The LTO admits that it needs to establish MVIS testing centers in various parts of the province in addition to Puerto Princesa City to fully comply with the policy. Due to a lack of resources to do it themselves, the government has allowed the private sector to take on the task.
De facto implementation
The new inspection procedure, if rigorously implemented, will naturally render redundant the existing emission testing centers also operated by private companies, as these tests will be incorporated into the MVIS testing protocols.
However, the local LTO admits that they still require the existing emission testing centers since they are unable to fully implement MVIS at present.
“We have no order (from the DOTr) that only PMVIC should operate alone. Vehicle owners can still renew their registration using the smoke emission tests,” Rodriguez said.
She added that they expect more vehicle owners in Puerto Princesa City to voluntarily submit their vehicles to the PMVIC since there is already a testing facility capable of accommodating up to 40 vehicles per day.
“We will need more private (MVIC) facilities otherwise we will find it hard (to comply) and we will still need the private emission tests,” Rodriguez said.
“Last time I observed, the PMVIC had averaged 40 vehicles a day. I think vehicle owners are not yet aware (of its existence). They are used to the emission test only,” Rodriguez added.
An LTO source told Palawan News that due to their limitations, the agency has not been strictly enforcing the new vehicle inspection policy, especially for red-plated or government-owned vehicles.
“There are so many government vehicles plying around the city and in the municipalities that have no registration. There are so many road accidents involving them. LTO should require these government vehicles to undergo roadworthiness testing,” the source said.
Establishing more private motor vehicle inspection centers (PMVICs), even with authorization from the LTO, can pose a challenging business proposition for additional private sector players. Sources indicate that the testing facility itself requires a capitalization of at least P50 million.
Due to the substantial capital investment required, Puerto Princesa City can only support one viable MVIC to handle vehicle tests.
Boy Sendaydiego, the resident manager of the sole PMVIC in Palawan, located along the national highway in Brgy. San Manuel in the city, described their testing procedure as more rigorous than the existing emission tests required by the LTO.
“Your vehicle has to undergo the proper test level in three stages that includes axle, brakes, speedometer, emission, steering, wheel balancing. So you will see the defects, more importantly in under carriage because the inspector would check underneath while the car is on axle plate to see the oil leaks,” Sendaydiego said.
He added that they conduct visual tests on the tail lights, signal lights, headlights, side mirrors, and windshields.
He said that once the tests are completed, a car would be issued a certificate.
“You will see on the certificate the results of the tests conducted. You will know outright if there are defects in your car,” he said.
Sendaydiego said that their inspectors are holders of the National Certificate II (NC-II) issued by the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Requiring all vehicles, including those based outside the capital, to undergo a comprehensive roadworthiness check remains the main challenge for the LTO.
In the case of Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation, for instance, which is based in Bataraza, Southern Palawan, approximately 200 km from the city, Sendaydiego said that they were requested by the company to bring their testing equipment on-site to ensure the roadworthiness of their vehicles.
“They requested if we can bring our equipment there. They want to insure the roadworthiness of their vehicles in Bataraza but we cannot. It’s too bulky and heavy,” Sendaydiego said.
Sendaydiego also clarified that PMVIC is only authorized to conduct roadworthiness inspections for heavy vehicles with a gross weight of up to 4,500 kilograms. Vehicles weighing above that limit can only obtain emission testing from the PETC.
Peter John Jalosjos, the operator of RVL Emission Testing Center located near the city’s LTO office, stated that their license is specifically for conducting carbon emission tests of motor vehicles, but with limitations on the number of vehicles they can accommodate in a day.
“It is a quota set by LTO that we can have 48 vehicles per day only,” Jalosjos said.
He mentioned that they can accommodate around 35 vehicles for emission tests on certain days.
Jalosjos stated that they have been operating the carbon emission testing business since 2015.
He expressed understanding towards the predicament faced by LTO Palawan due to a shortage of personnel to conduct visual testing of vehicles.
“Sometimes, in addition to our carbon emission testing, we do voluntary the work to visual tests to help the LTO to check the broken tail and head lights, side mirrors, thin tires, or broken panels. We remind the car operators, even motorcycle owners. We tell them we will not issue clearance if those things are broken or need change,” Jalosjos said.
Rodriguez stated that currently, there are three active emission testing centers accredited by the LTO in Puerto Princesa, along with one center in Brooke’s Point town in South Palawan, which serves the towns of Bataraza, Quezon, Rizal, Sofronio Española, and Narra. Additionally, there is an emission testing center in Roxas town that caters to vehicles from the northern municipalities of San Vicente, Dumaran, Taytay, and El Nido.
According to Rodriguez, Myrna Ocampo, the Palawan-LTO district office chief, admitted that they have to conduct special visits to Coron Island as the local government unit requested carbon emission tests for vehicles since there is no testing center available.
“Our chief has to go to Coron for a week because the LGU is requesting to supervise the emission tests,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said that the carbon emission testing machine is lightweight, allowing them to bring it to the municipality.
Despite being an island town, Coron has several shuttle vans for tourists and government-owned vehicles that need to meet the minimum vehicle registration requirement, which includes carbon emission tests, as there is no MVIC facility on the island yet.
Palawan News obtained data from LTO Palawan, showing the inspection and registration report conducted at the PMIVC extension facility for the month of May 2023. The report indicated that 696 private vehicles, 47 for-hire vehicles, and only 1 government vehicle successfully passed the inspection, totaling 744 vehicles.
The consolidated report from LTO Palawan for the month of May revealed that out of the total 3,715 motor vehicles inspected, 3,594 passed, while 121 failed, resulting in only 3,594 registered vehicles.
Rodriguez said that the PMVIC program of LTO, which focuses on ensuring the roadworthiness of vehicles, remains unpopular among car or truck owners. The LTO appealed to motorists in Palawan to undergo inspection and register their vehicles.
“To keep our roads safe, we need to have better standards how to check the roadworthiness of our vehicles. It is the reason why we are advocating the conduct of strict inspection of motor vehicles in Puerto Princesa city and Palawan despite the situation,” Rodriguez said,. “Unroadworthy vehicles remain as death traps.”