At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, all businesses, government offices, schools and non-essential services were shut down as a precaution to ensure public health safety. Now, more than 3 months after the initial lockdown, government offices have slowly resumes operations. While it is greatly appreciated, the 3-month quarantine is beginning to make its effects felt, causing chaos in processes like the renewal of a vehicle’s registration.

Posts have been flooding social media showing motorcycle riders lining up as early as 12 midnight at Private Emission Testing Centers (PETCs) in the hopes of reaching the center's cutoff and receiving one of the prerequisites to motorcycles registration renewal.

“I tried to line up at 3:30 AM this morning,” said Chris Dimaandal in Filipino to MotoPinas.com.

As early as this seems, he was not the first. Even at 3:30 AM, there were already more than 40 of them lined up at the emission testing center. By 8 AM, he was told to just come back another day to make the cutoff.

Riders line up for emission testing as early as 12 midnight imagePhoto by Chris Dimaandal

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to reach today’s cutoff of only 30 motorcycles for emission testing.”

Rider group's plea

Rider groups are already aware of this problem and have tried to notify the authorities about it. On June 25, the motorcycle group, Motorcycle Philippines Federation (MCPF), sent a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to request a temporary suspension of emission testing for motorcycles until a solution is found to avoid this congestion. The group noted that riders want to comply with the emission test requirement for registration renewal and change of ownership. However the backlog caused by the quarantine, limited number of testing centers, daily quota, and physical distancing protocols set by the government, make it difficult to comply.

The mandatory emission testing was imposed by the Clean Air Act (RA 8749), which requires all vehicles to undergo emission testing prior to the renewal of registration. Basically, it is the government's way of making sure that all vehicles plying the roads are road worthy, well maintained, and do not produce emissions that can harm the environment and its citizens. The Clean Air Act imposes blanket emissions restrictions on vehicles which they must pass in order to be registered. While many newer vehicles can easily pass this test, older vehicles built before these emissions regulations may struggle. It is an essential step, particularly in vehicle registration renewal, as outlined in our story here on how to renew your motorcycle’s registration.

'Guaranteed' slots

This small daily quota is exacerbated by enterprising individuals that work for PETCs with partner insurance brokers. Another requirement of registration renewal is procuring Third Party Liability (TPL insurance). Many smaller insurance firms offer coverage for a lower amount than the larger established firms, to entice customers. To earn a little more, both from emission testing and insurance, some have begun to offer both as a package deal for an assured slot.

“There were fixers who are offering a ‘guaranteed slot’ in the emission testing, as long as you avail of the Third Party Liability (TPL insurance) from them which is very expensive plus service fee,” said Jon in Filipino to MotoPinas.com. He also lined up for emission testing but was turned down.

Controversial partner

Private emission testing centers continue to be a controversial issue for the LTO. Critics have pointed out their propensity to come up with schemes. And while the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has made attempts to curtail behavior by shutting down some, it still continues in some centers.

Earlier in February, we published a story about some PETCs shut down by the DOTr and the LTO for attempting to falsify emissions results. Vehicle owners that know they will not pass the emissions test simply pay the center to produce a passing result.

Their scheme is simple: they use an old photo of a vehicle conducting a “real test”, then switch the plate number on the photo with another vehicle’s plate number that never actually did the emission test. Voilà! Guaranteed pass on the test, some of which don't even show up to the center at all.

No better alternative

Unfortunately, there is no better alternative to these PETCs. The LTO has proposed the establishment of Motor Vehicle Inspection Centers (MVIC) around the country, which will not only test for emissions but also for vehicle road worthiness. However, these centers, run by the government, will require larger plots of land, more specialized equipment, and more highly trained technicians to operate. Due to the costly and challenging requirements, there will be much fewer of these around the country, and could possibly amount to longer lines and worse delays when it comes to registration.

MotoPinas.com has tried to reach the LTO for an interview on the subject but has not yet replied as of this writing.