Editorial & Opinion

Yet another bus crash

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Last Friday, Feb. 7 was to have been a day of reprieve for Don Mariano Transit, the bus company whose seven franchises were cancelled by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board in the wake of an accident in December in which one of its buses fell off the Skyway and killed 21 people.

The official cause was the unsafe, worn-out condition of the bus tires; the vehicle was also said to have an unregistered bus chassis.

The LTFRB grounded all 78 Don Mariano buses, but the news last Friday was that the company had filed an appeal with the board vigorously contesting the grounds for the franchise cancellation and seeking the ban’s immediate lifting. Now the LTFRB says it is taking cognizance of the appeal. As Chair Winston Ginez puts it, the motion for reconsideration “gave us a fresh look at the evidence,” and “these arguments will be considered.”

Providence, it seemed, had other plans, because in another accident that served to underscore the primordial issues of public safety and the potential loss of lives arising from badly run—and badly regulated—public transport, another bus met a horrific fate on Friday morning. This time, a GV Florida Transport Inc. bus plunged into a ravine in Barangay Talubin in Bontoc, Mountain Province. The casualty count: 17 people dead, 32 injured.

Initial investigation showed the bus may not even be a Florida Transport vehicle. According to the LTFRB, the bus with plate number TXT-872 is officially registered with the Mountain Province Cable Tours; there is no record showing that it has been sold to Florida Transport. Also, the bus was not authorized to be used as a for-hire vehicle. Its chassis and engine were tampered with and are not registered with the Land Transportation Office, apparently to further camouflage the vehicle’s illegal provenance.


In the aftermath of this latest bus tragedy, calls for action and redress have come in thick and fast. The LTFRB has issued a preventive-suspension order stopping the operations of 238 buses of the two transport companies concerned. Sen. JV Ejercito has filed a bill calling for the installation of electronic speed limiters on buses to “protect the public from any speed-related activities.” Sen. Alan Cayetano wants the government to create an electronic database that would contain information on the franchise details and road safety history of bus companies. Rep. Teddy Baguilat wants a brass-tacks inquiry and is raising the importance of driver discipline, among other things. Ginez was also heard on radio saying: “We are declaring war against colorum [bus] operators.”

Big words - but more like the stable door being closed after the horses have fled. The accident in Bontoc, after all, is but the latest in a never-ending string of tragedies involving public transport, which inevitably points to acts of carelessness or illegality on the transport companies’ part, and criminal negligence on the part of government agencies tasked to regulate the sector. The fact that the Don Mariano and Florida Transport buses had spurious papers only begs the question: How many more of the thousands of buses plying our roads and highways are unlicensed—or worse, defective because beyond the ambit of inspection and regulation, and manned by drivers whose recklessness on the road results from a fundamental disdain for the law?

Compounding the injustice against those whose lives are lost in these accidents, and against the riding public in general - which has little choice but to ride these deadly vehicles given the absence of better alternatives—is the utter lack of accountability all around. Has anyone from Sulpicio Lines been clapped in jail for the sinking of the MV Doña Paz (1987, 4,386 dead)? The MV Doña Marilyn (1998, 254 dead)? The MV Princess of the Orient (1998, 453 dead)? The MV Princess of the Stars (2008, 800 dead)? The MV Sulpicio Express (2013, 55 deaths, 65 missing)?

Why, in the face of this grisly roll call, is the company still operating (under a new name)? Why has no one from any related government agency been punished for the clear negligence, and perhaps connivance, in getting this shipping line off the hook time and again? Similarly, why is it that, despite Don Mariano’s problematic track record (the most property-damage-related incidents in 2010 and 2011, according to LTFRB records), its franchise cancellation is still being reconsidered?


How many more deaths before the government gets sufficiently bothered to do something about this appalling record? Inquirer.net

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