What are Protocol Plates (Low-Numbered License Plates)

Protocol plates, like regular vehicle license plates, are issued and regulated by the Land Transportation Office (LTO), a government agency under the Department of Transportation (DOTr). As the name suggests, it is not a number plate available for everyone. It is reserved only for a select group of people of high-ranking government officials in particular, though it still needs to be secured from the LTO like any regular number plate. 

Note that protocol plates are also known as low-numbered license plates issued in the Philippines. It is reserved for top government officials in the country, and bears the same paint scheme as that of private vehicles. These number plates are plainly marked with the official designation, with some types allowed to bear distinguishing flags, stars, and emblems.

The low-number or protocol plates may also be used by other officials with equivalent rank or position as the designate of such numbers, though such use is subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Department of the Transportation upon the recommendation of the Assistant Secretary of the Land Transportation Office.

protocol plate number low numbered plate numbers

What are Low-Numbered Plates

Low-numbered plates, also known as protocol plates, are motor vehicle license plates designated and reserved for use by top government officials of the Republic of the Philippines, and have the same paint scheme as private vehicles. These number plates are issued in pairs for motor vehicles duly registered in the name of the designated officials or to their respective spouses. These plates are supposed to help with the security and traffic access of high-ranking government officials. They are also often accompanied by armed uniformed escorts.

Like the ability to drive in the Philippines, the use of protocol plates are also regulated, despite being offered as a privilege like regular and special LTO license plates (e.g. vanity license plates). However, there is a different set of guidelines or criteria for regulation and use of these low-numbered license plates.

Who Can Use Low-Numbered/Protocol Plates

The use of protocol plates was originally established and governed by law, thanks to Executive Order (EO) 287. Under this law, all motor vehicles purchased or owned by any department, bureau, office, division, branch, or unit thereof, or of any agency or instrumentality of the Government, including those of the corporations owned and controlled by the Government, shall be promptly registered in the Motor Vehicles Office and shall bear at all times official registration number plates with the official designation “PI” and a government shield.

This law also provided a uniform system for the registration of motor vehicles and assignment of motor plates to motor vehicles used by officials of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and duly-accredited officials of foreign states to the Philippines. The law governing such use of protocol plates has been updated several times, in 1960, 1978, and in 2005.

In 2005, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) in the Philippines decided to hit the brakes on the proliferation of the “supposed” top official vehicle license plates. Under this law, the list was simplified into only 17 official designations, though a clause saying that people of the same rank may use the low-numbered plate, upon approval. 

This law entitles the following to the use of the following low-numbered or protocol plates: 

1 – President

2 – Vice President

3 – President of the Senate

4 – Speaker of the House of Representatives

5 – Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

6 – Cabinet Secretaries

7 – Senators

8 – Representatives (Congressmen)

9 – Associate Justices of the Supreme Court

10 – Presiding Justice and other Justices of the Court of Appeals.

11 – Chairman, Commission on Elections

12 – Cabinet Undersecretary

13 – Solicitor-General

14 – Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Chief of the Philippine National Police

16 – Regional Trial Court Judges (e.g. 16*NCR)

17 – First Level Courts, including Metropolitan Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, and Shari’ah Circuit courts for the use of assistant city prosecutors, district prosecutors and chief city prosecutors. (Stamped with initials of 17*ACP or court branch number).

Guidelines in Using Protocol Plates

In recent news, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has released a new set of guidelines promptly defined in the DOTC’s Department Order (DO) 2014-004, to be observed and implemented in relation to the use of the protocol plates issued by the LTO. 

These new guidelines include: 

  • Government officials will now have to surrender their original motor vehicle plates to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) before requesting for protocol plates from the DOTC.
  • The new protocol plates from the DOTr now come with expiry dates.
  • The expiry dates of each protocol plate coincide with the term of the public official 
  • The protocol plates also indicate the office being served as well as the locality and the region the public official is from.
  • It should bear the markings to indicate the duration of effectivity (e.g. 16th Congress, 2010-2016, etc.).
  • Protocol plates should be displayed on top of the vehicle’s regular plate.
  • Protocol plates must be placed in front and in the rear part of the vehicle.
  • The protocol plates will need to be surrendered to the LTO upon expiration.
  • The LTO will then issue a clearance certificate upon surrender of the protocol plate and prior to the return of the original plate number to the owner.

Note that in the official guidelines outlining the issuance and use of protocol plates, not more than two pairs of the said license plates are allowed to be issued to two (2) motor vehicles of any of the assigned officials with the exception of the President of the Philippines, the Vice President of the Philippines, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Senators and Congressmen, for instance, may be allowed not more than four (4) pairs of low-numbered/protocol plates.


Protocol plates are issued mainly for the convenience and safety of top government officials in the Philippines. Unfortunately, through the years, the use of certain protocol plates, particularly those that bear the number “8” have become abused as they are being used in vehicles that are neither driven nor used not by congressmen themselves. Instead, the plates are either being transfered or are being used in vehicles driven by other family members as they roam the streets like members of royalty in heavily-tinted vehicles sporting low-numbered car plates, which is a clear violation of the law. Now, more people, including the officials themselves, are calling for the abolition of this privilege, saying that these protocol plates are being used as an excuse to expect “regular” cars to “part like the Red Sea” and to blatantly disregard traffic rules and regulations.

To date, the use of protocol plates continue, but the call for its abolition remains a controversial topic, thanks to the continuous use of this issue as a form of campaign material (e.g. former President Aquino’s no wang-wang policy and no counterflow) and the continuous call for the total removal of this unnecessary plates from the Philippine public roads.

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