Dance of grief
It was quite a scene created by the widow of Arvin Jimenez, who was better known as the comedian “Tado.” At a government hearing, she had her head shaved to dramatize, she said, not just her anger at the owners of the bus her husband was riding when he met his death, but also her dismay at the entire government regulatory system overseeing the operations of provincial buses.
Indeed, many might have sympathized with the grieving widow. Accidents involving public buses, in Metro Manila and in Bontoc where the Florida Bus plunge took place, have lately taken over the headlines, it seems.
But watching the scene of the head-shaving on early evening TV, I couldn’t help wondering how Jun Florida, a vice president of Florida Bus Line, the family-owned enterprise, was reacting.
“Emotions are still too high,” he said when we talked one afternoon this week and I asked if he had met with Tado’s family. “It takes time; we have to wait for the right time and the right person to talk to.”
However, I guess that by the very act of having her head shaved in public, Tado’s widow should be in no mood yet to meet with Jun or any other member of the Florida family. In fact, before the cameras she even tore up a check representing the insurance payment for the family members of those who died as a result of the bus crash.
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DEALING with the families of passengers and crew who die or are wounded as a result of road accidents is part and parcel of the lot of transport line owners, it seems.
Most accidents involving provincial buses also involve motorcycles, bikes and tricycles which share space and speed on busy highways, according to Jun. The company has yet to determine the exact cause of the Bontoc accident, although it sent inspectors there at once to determine what happened, he said.
Jun said the company’s immediate concern was transferring the wounded to hospitals, some to as far as Metro Manila. “We will shoulder all their medical expenses and insurance,” he promised. But in the same TV news item on the Bontoc accident, a wounded survivor complained that it wasn’t enough for the company to have paid for hospitalization and a month’s worth of medicines. “They should also answer for the wages we lost and will lose because of our injuries,” the survivor told a reporter. And what value do you put on the loss of a life, what more of a breadwinner?
Meanwhile, at the terminal on Earnshaw Street in Sampaloc, Manila, and its other facilities, the Florida family is shouldering the meals and other expenses of about 800 employees. While the investigation of the accident is ongoing, and determining the culpability of the company is underway and the buses are impounded, the drivers, conductors, mechanics and other workers still need to survive. Most of them are Ilocanos, Jun noted.
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JUN and his older brother George, who is Florida Bus Line’s president, inherited the business from their grandfather and father. “They started small,” recalled Jun, adding that his father used to drive a truck for his grandfather, then expanded the business to include a fleet of jeeps and minibuses. But when the brothers (they have two other brothers and a sister) took over, they steadily expanded the company to its present fleet of 184 buses, some of which are equipped with onboard toilets that make nonstop overnight trips possible.
On such trips, two drivers take turns at the wheel, while a mechanic is onboard in case of emergencies, Jun said.
Florida Bus Line plied a mostly Manila-Ilocos route but expanded to include routes to the Cordilleras when a Mr. Que, who owned the Mountain Cable Transit, sold his franchise to the Floridas. The driver involved in the plunge down the mountain in Bontoc used to drive for Mountain Cable.
There were also reports that the bus involved in the accident was a “colorum” bus, because its franchise belonged to another company, Dagupan Lines. But Jun explained that Florida Bus Line merely “swapped” franchises with Dagupan Lines about two years ago when it bought its fleet.
The Florida bus fell down the mountainside in Bontoc at around 7 a.m., and Jun said he received the first of many text messages by 9 a.m. that Friday. It was Mr. Que who was first at the scene to represent the bus line, he recalled.
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JUN winced as he recalled the delicate dance he has had to conduct when dealing with the families of survivors and fatalities. Indeed, how does one calibrate the dance of grief? Appear too soon and you could be accused of insensitivity, of rubbing the raw, open wounds of the recently deceased and of those still recovering from their trauma. Wait too long before making an appearance, and you could be accused also of insensitivity and ignoring the urgent needs of those still in hospital and of indifference to the sorrow your company caused.
Indeed, passengers shouldn’t have to put their lives on the line when they board a bus—or a taxi, jeepney, or any form of public transport. But the reality, as Jun attested, is that the owners of transportation businesses need to take dealing with the consequences of accidents as part of the hazards of the trade. Of course, it goes without saying that they should take every precaution, train their drivers well and ensure that the latter don’t succumb to fatigue or carelessness, make sure their vehicles are road-worthy. And our government regulators should make sure they keep taking these basic safeguards.
And shouldn’t our network of roads—up in winding mountain routes, or down in the gleaming concrete jungles of the city—be safe for commuters, motorists, and bus operators alike?
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