By Gabriel Pabico Lalu, June 8, 2020; Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines – Motorists may now apply or renew their car registration and driver’s licenses online through the Land Transportation Office (LTO) online portal, to avoid direct contact and possible coronavirus transmissions.

LTO explained on Monday that people can use to access their records away from LTO branches, easing car registration and license application procedures, which may take some time and may necessitate close contact with other people — violating physical distancing protocols.

Aside from Metro Manila and other areas, the service has been made available in the areas of Laoag, Bayombong, Roxas, Tagbuilaran, Dumaguete, Ormoc, Butuan, Pagadian, Malaybalay, Lipa, Calapan, Naga, Tagum, Davao, General Santos, and Baguio.

“Today, applying for a driver’s license, registering a car or paying fees is now possible online after LTO launched its new website  The portal provides fast and 24/7 access to the agency’s services via computer, tablet or smartphone,” LTO said in a statement.

“Especially in this time of COVID-19 and the resulting limitations on freedom of movement, the new system presents a significant benefit,” they added.

According to the LTO, applicants can make cashless payments — including for fines and other fees — before making an appointment at an LTO branch office. Interested parties however would need to sign up as a client in the portal before being able to access the site.

“All citizens of the country need to do is to register as client in the public portal, create and appointment at their choice of LTO office, pay their fees online for their Driver’s License, car registration, motor vehicle inspection service, and even pay their fines,” it said.

LTO said that the Land Transport Management System (LTMS), developed in partnership with identification company Dermalog, has an Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) with face and fingerprint identification to prevent false or double identities.

The data center placed in Manila, LTO added, can do over one million transactions per day.

This would not only reduce time, but also alleviate stress experienced by LTO employees who have to respond to numerous paperwork brought by the job.

But even before the COVID-19 pandemic gained traction, LTO has been working to finalize a digital system which reduces physical interaction — although not to secure the health of the motorists and the LTO personnel.

As an agency notorious for such practices, LTO was looking towards the digital system to minimize the possibility of corruption, as cashless transactions would reduce red tape and probable under-the-table transactions.

“The new LTO portal is one of the key steps on our way to becoming a frontline government agency showcasing fast and efficient public service for a progressive land transport sector,” LTO chief and Transportation Assistant Secretary Edgar Galvante noted.

After the pandemic forced the suspension of work except for essential services, LTO announced that renewal of permits and other documents would be extended, with customers not needing to shoulder late registration or late renewal fees.

As of now, as Metro Manila transitions to a general community quarantine (GCQ), more vehicles are seen on the road although public transportation remains scarce. Several LTO offices in the region, plus in Central Luzon and Laguna have reopened since the shift to a GCQ.

However, on Monday, the Department of Health has recorded a steady increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, now at 22,474 coronavirus-infected patients — of which 1,011 have died while 4,637 have recovered.