In the dark, in the ravine
Yet again there’s news of another bus crash, this time claiming 19 lives. That’s 19 too many.
Imagine the bus negotiating the dark, downhill road at a fast pace and eventually falling into the ravine. Imagine its occupants’ terror. Imagine their families’ grief. It’s easy to do so because this happens so often, too often, it’s almost like scripted.
In a country where buses are a vital means of transportation, the fact that bus crashes regularly claim lives is cause for lament. Poor traffic law enforcement, ill-maintained buses (“rolling coffins,” they’re called), and lack of safety features on roads such as lights, railings and signs add up to constant tragedy.
Last March 20 the Manila-bound Dimple Star Transport bus left the town of San Jose in Occidental Mindoro at 5:20 p.m. It was traversing a winding downhill stretch of the national highway in the town of Sablayan at around 9 p.m. when, police surmised, the brakes failed (the driver was reportedly heard shouting to that effect).
It was said to have hit a pile of soil that caused it to fall on its side; then it skidded, veered into a railing approaching Patrick Bridge in Barangay Batong Buhay, and then plunged into a 10-meter ravine.
The dead included the driver, Arno Panganiban, and his conductor; 21 other passengers were injured. Most of the fatalities were seated at the front of the bus. The barangay residents were the first responders.
It was the deadliest road accident in the country since December, the latest in a series in 2017 that included, among others: the Christmas Day crash in La Union that killed 20 people, the April 18 crash that killed 35 people in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija, and the Feb. 20 crash that killed 13 students, among others.
The deadliest recent crash is still the one that killed 42 of 50 passengers in Benguet in 2010.
And yet these are just a number of the almost regular accidents involving buses on provincial routes. The fact that there is an active list of these horrific crashes is enough cause for alarm.
Immediately after the March 20 accident, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board grounded nine Dimple Star buses plying the Mindoro-Manila route for 30 days.
Dimple Star was also ordered to fulfill several other requirements, including roadworthiness inspections of its buses and road safety seminars and drug tests for its drivers.
The latest report is that the LTFRB will ground the entire fleet after an inspection of the units and the Dimple Star terminal in Quezon City.
President Duterte was reported to have been sufficiently disturbed as to travel unannounced to Sablayan to visit the wakes for the dead. He also ordered the arrest of Dimple Star operator Hilbert Napat; he ordered as well the arrest of all drivers and operators of unlicensed or colorum vehicles, complete with his trademark threat of murder if they resist arrest and endanger the lives of policemen, according to his special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go.
Once again the issues of public transportation and passenger safety are taking center stage. But would anything noteworthy have been accomplished after the shouting dies down?
Sen. Grace Poe, who has championed Senate Bill No. 1637 that seeks to establish a National Transportation Safety Board, put it on record: “Sadly, the list of tragic road accidents and their casualties continue to increase because vehicles that are not roadworthy or even those we label as rolling coffins are still allowed to ply the roads with near impunity.”
It’s a fact of life in these parts that, like maritime disasters, bus crashes have become ordinary occurrences meriting not much more than a shrug. It’s a terrible testament to the state of public transportation in the country.
Whose task is it to ensure that public vehicles are roadworthy, and their drivers sufficiently skilled and disciplined to be responsible for passengers’ lives?
When will the rules governing the roadworthiness of public vehicles and the proper state of their drivers be strictly and consistently implemented?
Why do rural areas lack streetlights?
Has anyone actually been punished for these steep death tolls?
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