OWNERS of brand-new vehicles with license plates that bear seven characters (three-letter, four-number combinations) would have a hard time recovering their vehicles if they were stolen.
The reason is that the new license plates are not yet listed in the main database of the Land Transportation Office (LTO), according to a source from the agency who requested anonymity.
More than 14 million owners of motor vehicles and motorcycles will be required to replace their old plates with the new plates that cost P450 a pair. The LTO started issuing the seven-character license plates to newly registered motor vehicles in May this year but the source said LTO chief Alfonso Tan did not tell vehicle owners that their new plates are not yet included in the database of the agency.
The LTO database is an integral component in the operation of the agency because it contains all information about registered vehicles in the country.
Included in the database are the type of vehicle, its registered owner, date it was last registered with the agency and statement on a particular vehicle being in the so-called pending alarm list.
The pending alarm list shows if a vehicle has been used in any unlawful act or has been reported stolen by its owner.
The LTO has been claiming that the new license plates contain security features to thwart car thieves.
The new plate has laser-etched bar code that contains data about the vehicle’s engine or chassis numbers, model or type.
It also has identifying features not available in the previous editions, like the region where the vehicle was registered, and the vehicle type.
But the source warned that the security features of the new plates are useless because the LTO is still groping on how to include such features in its database.
Under the current system, the LTO’s information technology (IT) provider Stradcom is keeping all the information in its database that could be easily accessed by any LTO office all over the country for verification, updates and other vehicle-registration concerns.
The reason why LTO cannot include the information in its database is that the system being used by Stradcom is only compatible with the old type of plates or the six-character plates (three letters and three numbers).
According to the source, in order to have the new license plates accepted by the existing system, Stradcom needs to upgrade its application and an upgrade means LTO will have to pay Stradcom additional money for the construction of a new system.
“Unfortunately, Stradcom doesn’t want to do it because an upgrade to the system would cost some money and currently the LTO still owes the IT company at least P3 billion from the previous contract of Stradcom,” the source said.
He explained that the absence of the information in the LTO database does not only cause inconvenience to vehicle owners, but car thieves will have a field day because their potential buyers have no way of immediately finding out if a vehicle is stolen or not.
“So if a car thief steals a vehicle with a new license plate and sells it, the buyer can’t check the information of the vehicle through the LTO mobile verification system because there is no information about it yet in the database,” the source also explained.
He noted that the LTO launched a program called TEXT LTO, a mobile query facility that enables the public to inquire about requirement for various transactions including motor vehicles details such as pending alarms, apprehensions, last registration date, make, color and year of manufacture. But anybody who wants to verify the status of or get information about a vehicle with a new license plate will have a difficult time getting results because the information is not yet available in the system.
The LTO will also assign new alphanumeric identification codes to old motor vehicles and motorcycles and expects to complete the process by 2016.