MANILA (UPDATED) - The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has suspended the new Land Transportation Office (LTO) order requiring applicants for a professional driver's license to get clearances from both the police and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya on Tuesday said they will revert to requiring applicants to only get police or NBI clearance as "a balancing act between the public good of ensuring passenger safety and economic realities of public utility drivers."
"We have wanted to pursue this reform for passenger safety and to upgrade the standards for PUV [public utility vehicle] drivers. However, there is also the economic side of things with respect to livelihood," Abaya explained.
Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto have questioned the new requirement, saying it is "another red tape" that will further burden applicants.
Recto, in his interpellation of the proposed 2016 budget of the DOTC, noted that professional drivers, most of whom are low-wage earners, will have to contend with long queues to secure both the police and NBI clearance.
He proposed that the two agencies instead provide the LTO manually and electronically their databases on persons with criminal records.
"Kesa pipila pa sila sa NBI at sa estasyon ng pulis, baka pwedeng ipadala na lang nila sa LTO ang listahan ng mga taong may kasong kriminal o wanted ng batas," said Recto. "Pwede naman file sharing na lang."
The senator also agreed with Drilon's point that there are criminal charges that have no bearing on a person's qualification to drive.
"Tama si Senator Frank ng sinabi nya kung may kaso ka ng libel at hindi ka pa convicted, bakit ka pagkakaitan ng pribilehiyong magmaneho?"
"If you're an activist and you have a pending case for illegal assembly, I think this shouldn't be made a basis for the rejection of your application," he added.
A group of tricycle drivers, the National Confederation of Tricycle Operators and Drivers Associations of the Philippines (Nactodap), earlier asked the Pasig Regional Trial Court to stop the new LTO administrative order, saying it just adds to the burden of PUV drivers.
LTO spokesperson Jason Salvador had defended the new order, saying: "Ang paghawak ng isang manibela ay parang paghawak ng isang baril yan. Kung ito ay ibibigay mo sa mga kamay ng hindi properly trained at hindi talaga dapat humawak nito ay maaari itong maka-cause ng pagkawala ng buhay."
The LTO added that it held public consultation first before implementing the new requirement. Nactodap, however, denied this.
Abaya, meanwhile, clarified that the police and NBI requirement is the only item they are suspending.
"The 5 AOs [Administrative Orders] we issued in the driver's license reform was to make the application process more streamlined with the elimination of useless lectures and now posting Q&As online and giving out free reviewers, incentivizing good behavior by allowing 5-year renewal period for drivers without traffic violations," he said.
"New tests will be specific to the vehicle one intends to drive, not a general test for all. We have also increased the age requirement of student permit and required a longer period before one can apply for a professional driver's license," he added. -- With a report from Junry Hidalgo, dzMM