Registration plates are not the problem

This is my column today, March 16, 2014.
The Transportation Department announced last week that starting April, the registration plates of all vehicles in this country would have to be replaced and owners would have to cough up an additional 450 pesos for this latest money-making venture of government. This would be in addition to the various money-making ventures that are already in place in various Land Transportation Offices in this country – from the ridiculous physical examination for drivers conducted by non-qualified personnel, to drug testing, to smoke emission testing, etc.
The bureaucrats regurgitated a long list of justifications for fleecing us yet again. We have been told that the new plates are supposed to be tamper-proof and have more security features than the vaults of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. But then again, if we spend the same amount of time thinking of ways to improve the way we execute and implement our brilliant plans than we do in thinking up ways to make money out of citizens, we probably would not have the kind of problems we have in this country now. The problem is execution, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation, folks.
If we really come to think about it, the problems related to switching and stealing of vehicle registration plates are not caused by the size, color or design of the plates. They are caused by failures in our systems- in particular, laxity in apprehending perpetrators of various illegal measures and in meting punishments to those who are caught violating laws. Changing the registration plates per se will not result in dramatic improvements because we happen to be the most ingenious people in the world particularly when it comes to circumventing laws and regulations.
And then there’s the other complication that the LTO has chosen to be mum about, but which will create a major uproar: How to ensure that vehicles will still get the same ending number on their registration plates.
Note that everyone who submitted applications for new plates since last year has been told by the LTO that they cannot pick the ending number of their plates precisely because the agency’s backlog is so huge that assigning preferred numbers would tie them up in an administrative nightmare for years. Can you imagine the kind of uproar it would make if families with more than one car would end up with registration plates with the same ending numbers for all their cars?
I marked a special personal milestone last week. I turned 50.
Although I grew up in a family that always celebrated birthdays, I’ve never felt compelled to celebrate my birthday in a major way. There’s always dinner in the house for family and friends who would remember and, well, there’s the usual simple lunch at the office, but I still have to feel the urge to go out and rent a function room in a restaurant, or close down a bar, or hire a band. Maybe when I am 75, perhaps.
But I seemed to have missed out on the memo that said marking half a century of existence was a major cause for celebration. One of my closest friends from my college years chastised me for not letting everyone knew that I was joining the ranks of the golden boys – they could have made the trip to Manila and roasted a few pigs, he said. When people learned that I was celebrating my 50th, they somehow seemed more enthusiastic and sincere with their greetings. What was intended as a simple lunch at the office transformed into a party as officemates ordered balloons, put on a program, and surprised me with a few more flourishes such as a photo booth.
One of my mentors set things in perspective with a text message that essentially welcomed me into the fold of those who were “in the youth of old age.” She said being 50 is a blessing in a country where many people don’t reach 30; being 50 and being relatively healthier is a big deal in a country where most begin showing medical complications associated with old age at 40. My own mom still smokes cigarettes and drinks beer at 75, but two of her siblings did succumb to heart attack before they reached 50, so I sat up and came to terms with the sobering facts about my own mortality.
Given my frenetic lifestyle and the fact that I eat stress for lunch and dinner, I guess it’s indeed a small miracle and a source of great wonder that I am still writing this piece today. Truly there’s a lot to be thankful for. And as if to drive home the point more empathically, I started feeling tightening and numbness on my neck and back the day after my birthday. The doctor asked for x-rays and it looks like I will be undergoing therapy for some lumbar problems – in addition to the usual body wear and tear. So yes, I am now fully convinced every day is a major blessing and every birthday an occasion for thanksgiving. So to everyone who remembered me last week and sent warm thoughts and greetings, thank you very much!


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