Like most tragic road accidents through which government agencies immediately gain wisdom in hindsight, the tragedy involving a tourist bus which crashed into a ravine in barangay Cansomoroy, Balamban last Sunday resulting to the death of 21 people has sparked many proposals on the roadworthiness of public vehicles and road safety measures in general ? in the Transcentral Highway in particular.
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has ordered drivers of the J&D Tour lines to take drug tests and driving proficiency tests, while imposing a 30-day suspension on the tour bus and car rental company. The Land Franchising and Regulatory Board is set to strictly implement road worthiness tests on the company which owned the ill-fated bus. Upon the suggestion of Cebu 3rd Dist. Rep. Pablo John Garcia, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will decide which vehicles should be allowed to pass through the Transcentral Highway.
There is also a suggestion to tap the Cebu Provincial Police Office to set up check points in the Transcentral Highway to prevent buses and big trucks from passing the dangerous area. A legal cover is needed to implement this particular security measure and I hope newly elected Provincial Board Members Alex Binghay and Cesar Ian Zambo will give this proposal the attention it needs.
The area in Cansomoroy where the tourist bus fell off after losing its brakes is very dangerous for buses and trucks. Those in the know, like outgoing Provincial Board Member Victoria Corominas, whose family owns a fleet of public buses, said only four-wheel drive vehicles can safely pass through the mountain road. To illustrate that the Transcentral Highway is generally unsafe, Corominas buses do not pass this route going to Balamban. Apparently, there have been several road accidents in the area in the past but have gone unreported. The mishap last Sunday which claimed the lives of 20 Iranians and the Filipino driver and owner of the bus appears to be the most significant accident happening in the winding road.
In the aftermath of the accident, people decried the lack of warning signs and rail guards along the perilous route. Human error was also cited because although Jaime Batoon was an experienced driver, he was not familiar with the Balamban terrain. It is a wonder why he did not look for a driver familiar with the area when Cebu abounds with tourist bus drivers. The Iranians, who booked the bus had scheduled the mountain trip days in advance, rented the bus for P15,000. Batoon could have easily parted with one-tenth of that tidy sum to pay for the services of a more capable driver, but that?s water under the bridge.
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The ill-fated bus, a 55-seater Hino was purchased some time in May from the Subic Freeport. According to reports, Batoon took the bus from the Subic Freeport and drove it all the way to Cebu. The unit was originally a right-hand drive (RHD) vehicle converted to left-hand drive (LHD).
In 2003, RHD vehicles mostly coming from Japan landed in the Subic Freeport. The Bureau of Internal Revenue moved to prevent the importation of RHDs owing to reports of smuggling and undervaluation.
The Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. and the Truck Manufacturers Association expressed concern because ?the safety or roadworthiness of those right-hand drive vehicles converted to left hand drive cannot be assured due to lack of proper certification on their compliance with safety regulations and standards.?
In fact, they noted then that ?Conspicuous violations of safety standards have been noted of these vehicles such as on the manner of conversion (cut and weld), wiper orientation, headlamp beam pattern, door position and rear or side view mirror adjustment.?
In 2004, President Arroyo created a task force to lead the drive against smuggling but the importation of second hand cars and the conversion business went unabated. There was a high demand for surplus units and Filipinos who wanted to own Pajeros and other imported vehicles easily took a liking to the five to 10-year-old cars because they were very cheap. Pajeros selling for P350,000 was a steal for many OFWs even if there were issues pertaining to the vehicle?s safety. Environmentalists too have aired their concerns because these second hand cars are nothing but junk dumped in our shores by foreign car manufacturers.
This is not to say that suggestions to improve road regulation and security for passengers are not well-thought of. They are, but I think there is a greater need to revisit the ban on RHDs owing to its severe social cost, as shown by the Balamban tragedy last Sunday.