Philippine Daily Inquirer

Yet another bus crash

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It's truly unfortunat­e that it takes tragedy to shake officialdo­m out of its lethargy. The bus crash last week in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija, with the death toll at 35 at this writing, has moved lawmakers to again seek an inquiry into what appeared to be an accident just waiting to happen: overloaded bus, faulty brakes, busy mountain highway... Expect the breast-beating to accelerate before the finger-pointing and customary noise settle down to a hopefully rigorous review of what went wrong and what should—finally—be made right. Buses play an integral role in the life of Filipinos. And because the demand for them is high, bus companies are often found to cut corners (forcing drivers to drive incredibly long hours, for example) in order to maximize profit (overloadin­g being a typical practice). Is it any wonder that accidents involving buses are no longer surprising?

But the April 18 bus crash in Carranglan was one of the worst in Northern Luzon in the last five years.

The Leomarick Trans bus, driven by Rolando Mangaoang, had come from Ilagan City in Isabela; its final destinatio­n was to have been Bangued, Abra. Per witness accounts, the driver kept stopping to pick up more passengers even if the bus was already full. At last count, there were more than 70 passengers when the supposed maximum number was 45. On the Maharlika Highway-Cagayan Road, the driver warned the passengers that the brakes were not working. Shortly afterwards, one of the front wheels exploded, then the bus struck a damaged portion of a concrete barrier on a sharp curve, and plunged into a ravine, the passengers screaming as it fell.

The impact was so powerful that the bus’ roof was torn off and the passengers thrown in all directions. Rescuers had to use ropes to make their way down the ravine.

There was initial difficulty in identifyin­g the dead, among whom were the driver and conductor. Expectedly, the Land Transporta­tion Franchisin­g and Regulatory Board has suspended the Leomarick Trans franchise for 30 days pending the results of its investigat­ion.

This horror story is all too familiar. In 2002, a bus lost its brakes and fell into a ravine on Quirino Highway in Quezon province, killing 33. In 2010, 42 of 50 passengers were killed when a bus fell into a ravine in Benguet, leading to an inquiry by the Department of Transporta­tion and Communicat­ions into the socalled “kabit” system where a bus company illegally subcontrac­ts another bus company to fill demand. In 2014, a GV Florida bus crashed in Mountain Province, killing 15 passengers; it, too, was part of the same “kabit” system. Only last February, 15 people—mostly college students—were killed when the bus they were riding—again subcontrac­ted—lost its brakes and hit a barrier and a power transmissi­on pole.

There have been cases when mudslides and avalanches caused accidents. But human error and faulty maintenanc­e of vehicles, as well as short cuts in road safety and industry standards, are much more common causes of buses crashing or falling off mountain roads. When paying passengers literally place their lives in the hands of bus companies, surely it must be guaranteed that all regulation­s have been followed, the vehicles are in good condition, and their personnel in tiptop physical and mental shape.

Lawmakers have made the appropriat­e noises. Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas has called for a law mandating that old, malfunctio­ning buses be kept off the roads. “Our authoritie­s in the transporta­tion sector must once and for all act [more strongly] against buses that are not roadworthy. These coffins with wheels must no longer be allowed to take passengers,” he said.

But, like mishaps at sea, bus accidents have been deemed part of the Filipino way of life. (And shipping companies are allowed to take on a new name and get away with murder.) In this heart-stopping era, it’s time the DOTC, LTFRB, Metropolit­an Manila Developmen­tal Authority, and other relevant agencies be made to toe that bold mantra “Change is coming.” Or else be terminated with extreme prejudice.

SHORTLY AFTERWARDS, ONE OF THE FRONT WHEELS EXPLODED, THEN THE BUS STRUCK A DAMAGED PORTION OF A CONCRETE BARRIER ON A SHARP CURVE, AND PLUNGED INTO A RAVINE, THE PASSENGERS SCREAMING AS IT FELL

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