On the previous Wednesday, I looked at my driver’s license and saw that it had expired on my birthday in 2008. That was in November. Luckily, I had only driven three times since then. Not so luckily, I was pulled over while en route to the LTO (Land Transportation Office) to renew my driver’s license this time around, but all I got was a verbal warning. My eyes were feeling great, so I wasn’t worried about the eye test I knew I would have to take. The LASIK eye surgery I’d undergone would practically guarantee that I’d pass the test.
Getting the Driver’s License
Back in 2006, when I got my first driver’s license in the Philippines, I had to have an eye test and a drug test before the application could be processed. My wife and I got our licenses at the same time and it took less than an hour altogether because she hired a “fixer” (which was made illegal in 2007 to fight corruption). This time around, I had to do it alone and it took more than two hours from start to finish. It wouldn’t have been too bad if the outside temperature was cool but we were in the middle of a heat spell and it was over 35 degrees Celsius. Coupled with the humidity, it was torturous. No, there are no indoor waiting rooms.
I did the paperwork for the drug test first, but there was a line to use the facility (the “C.R.” or “comfort room”, as they call it). I was sent to another office to take the eye test. When I took the test in 2006, my eyes hadn’t become accustomed to the humidity here. After having LASIK eye surgery some years back, and seeing my vision degrade due to having dry eyes all time, I ended up getting a score of 20/40 (I think). I had difficulty reading the smallest characters pointed out to me. This time around, I had no difficulty at all. 20/20 all the way, in both eyes.
About two and half hours later, I was home again with a shiny, new driver’s license.
The Land Transportation Office (LTO)
Just like at the US motor vehicle divisions, the LTO is where people in the Philippines go to get their driver’s licenses. It’s also the place to get their automotive plates renewed, which reminded me that the plates on my 2006 Toyota Corolla Altis would in April of 2009. The initial registration was good for three years and as long as the initial term of insurance.
Before an anti-corruption law was passed in 2007, “fixers” would hang around outside the LTO. If you gave them some money up front, they’d make sure your paperwork was processed with a high priority, ahead of those who didn’t use the fixers. If someone is caught “fixing” now, the fine can be anywhere from 20,000 to 200,000 pesos (you can figure out the amount in US dollars by dividing it by the current exchange rate). The lowest fine is more than any fixer could ever make a month.
A two-hour wait was fine with me. I didn’t know my wife used a fixer until after we had our driver’s licenses the first time around. She was raised in the Philippines, so using a fixer didn’t bother her in any way — she was used to the corruption. Even if I had known about it, I probably wouldn’t have complained.
The expiration of the driver’s licenses is behind the times. It’s the same as it was in Arizona when I was young. My US driver’s license doesn’t expire until 2020 (I think — I haven’t looked at it in over a year). Three years from the last birthday for my Philippines driver’s license is a pain. It means more frequent trips to the LTO, something I could do without.
The Drug and Vision Tests
In a way, I’m glad the licenses expire frequently. It keeps the drug abusers and the near-blind people from driving on the same roads as I do. Driving in Olongapo City and any other city in the Philippines is almost like taking part in a demolition derby as it is.
The drug test is a standard urinalysis and since the lab is right there, there isn’t a long wait for test results. The vision test is the standard eye chart that’s been used since the dawn of eye tests. With LASIK eye surgery in my past, the only thing I have to worry about now is any possible cataract laser surgery when I get older. I say “possible” because I may not live that long.
Update – May 23, 2013
I originally wrote this article in January of 2009. The driver’s license I obtained back then has long since expired and I never bothered to renew it. A sister-in-law’s husband drives me wherever I need to go and he has to keep his driver’s license up-to-date because he’s a part-time taxi driver.
Every time my wife returns to the Philippines, since she goes back and forth between here and the US, she makes sure her driver’s license isn’t expired. I haven’t figured out if it’s because she likes to drive or because she doesn’t like waiting on someone to drive for her.