Life and death
All Saints’ Day should be a good time to discuss why Filipinos have a low regard for life and a fatalistic attitude toward death. It is all summed up in two words: “Bahala na’’ (Let’s leave it to God.)
On Dec. 20, 1987, more than 4,000 people died in the sinking of MV Doña Paz of the Sulpicio Lines in the worst peacetime maritime disaster, and after the initial hue and cry, the case was forgotten and nobody has been held responsible and punished for the deaths of thousands.
On Oct. 24, 1988, MV Doña Marilyn sailed from Manila for Tacloban City in the middle of a storm. The ship capsized, sending about 250 people to their death.
On Sept. 18, 1998, MV Princess of the Orient left Manila for Cebu City, again in the middle of a storm, and sank near Manila Bay. About 150 passengers died.
In June 2008 Sulpicio’s MV Princess of the Stars sank at the height of Typhoon “Frank” off Sibuyan Island in Romblon. Only 48 survived of the 849 passengers and crew on board. In all cases Sulpicio Lines blamed “an act of God’’ for the sinkings and it was cleared of criminal responsibility for the deaths of thousands of passengers and crew.
A similar situation obtains in the land transport industry. On June 20, 1999, a Baguio Bus Lines vehicle bound for La Union from Baguio City overshot a sharp curve on Naguilian road and plunged into a ravine. Twenty-two people were killed. On Feb. 2, 2002, a Norton Bus was negotiating an eroded dirt road in Benguet when it hit a mountainside and fell into a ravine, killing 16 people.
Nov. 24, 2002. A Falcon Bus Liners vehicle lost its brakes and plunged into a ravine on Quirino Highway in Quezon province, killing 33 people. April 2, 2005. A Falcon Bus Liners vehicle lost its brakes and plunged into a ravine on Quirino Highway in Quezon province, leaving 33 people dead.
In Metro Manila, buses competing for passengers or jostling for space have killed scores of pedestrians and passengers of smaller vehicles like jeepneys or taxis.
Now the accidents are not confined to big vehicles and cars. Last year, according to the Metro Manila Development Authority, 17,097 motorcycles were involved in accidents. The percentage of fatal vehicular accidents that involved motorcycles in 2010 was 33.75 percent, the highest fatality accident rate among vehicles that year.
The fatal accidents are not confined to the transport industry. Scores of workers have been killed because of inadequate safety precautions in construction sites. Last Jan. 27, 10 workers plunged to their death from an overloaded gondola at the 28th floor of a building that was under construction. On Oct. 7, five workers were crushed to death when a massive steel ramp they were erecting at the Subic shipyard tore off from supporting foundation posts and fell on them.
At the Hanjin shipbuilding facility in Subic, Zambales, a worker died after falling from a truck on Dec. 27, 2007. Two weeks later, an explosion in the assembly shop killed two welders. In March 2011 three other workers died in an accident.
All these maritime and land transport accidents, as well as accidents on construction sites, were treated as if they were everyday occurrences. There is no great outrage over the negligence of ship owners, drivers, train engineers and construction company officials.
The major example of the people’s forgetfulness is the sinking of the MV Doña Paz. Up to now, justice has not been obtained for the 4,000 who died in the world’s biggest maritime disaster. The lack of public outrage, the lack of interest in pursuing cases and the apathy of the riding and seagoing public have fostered a culture of impunity. The operators continue following the old, unsafe routines, most probably with the approval of authorities like the Coast Guard, and as a result, hundreds of people die in accidents that could have been avoided.
It’s time this low regard for human life was changed. It is true that death, like taxes, is unavoidable. It is also true that one begins to die the moment he or she is born. As Sir Thomas Browne said, “Life itself is but the shadow of death, and souls but the shadows of the living.’’ And although all of us will certainly die, we need not hasten death by throwing caution to the winds, leading an unsafe life and tolerating unsafe practices and impunity.
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