CEBU CITY -- A civil society organization (CSO) advocating for road safety is urging policy makers and the government to conduct a study on better safety measures the motorcycle transport known as “habal-habal” and “skylab” which is widely used in Mindanao.

“We would recommend a study on habal-habal and skylab for better safety measures and also on the high risk exposure for people using this mode of transportation... In this case, there are many factors that should be considered and the priority on this would be safety, accessibility and poverty among others,” said lawyer Sophia Monica San Luis, executive trustee of Imagine Law.

The skylab and habal-habal are forms of motorcycle transportation that are widely used in the provinces of Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte, and are slowly being introduced into parts of Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon.

In Caraga Region, habal-habal and Skylab have been transportation vehicles bringing commodities and people to-and-from far flung rural communities situated on hard to reach areas and valleys without any proper road networks.

The Skylab is an extended version of the single motorcycle transport known to locals as “habal-habal.” The unique part about the ride is that it still retains the two-wheeled motorcycle configuration while adding wings on both sides.

The interesting part of the wings design is that it allows the motorcycle to carry three times its normal cargo capacity that is now around 10 to 14 people. The ride got its name from the 1973 United States space station because the added wings look like the solar panel on NASA’s Skylab, which floats on its sides.

“Personally, I would like to recommend the prohibition in the use of these modified motorcycles. The modification is already hard to manage and control, you are also exposing so many people who are not restrained and in unsafe circumstances. But I know, prohibiting that will be difficult, and without existing study on better safety measures, all we can do is introduce other low cost intervention,” said San Luis.

San Luis enumerated the interventions as, “I would start with the helmets, and if you want ten people to ride your motorcycle, better be ready to provide helmets for them because all of these heads are going to be exposed. A small fast move, a slight mistake, you have 10 or more people who will suffer when their heads hit the ground without helmets on them. So whoever is driving that should be ready to distribute helmets.”

“I will also recommend that the speed of these vehicles be checked. Aside from the helmet, the speed has to be slow enough so that in case of a crash, they can immediately react with more time. If you can avoid travelling them with your children, then don’t. With infants, please don’t, your infant will not be able to tolerate injury from a motorcycle crash. Those are just some of the things I can suggest. For me the long-term view should be, to bring things closer to them so that it would not take that long for them to travel and also construct better roads for safer vehicles to reach those areas,” explained San Luis.

In July 2015, Republic Act (RA) 10666 or the Children’s Safety on Motorcycles Act of 2015 was passed causing concerns to several commuters and motorcycle drivers in parts of Mindanao.

Raffy Cortez (not his real name) a skylab driver from Cortez, Surigao del Sur reacted on the law pointing out that the lawmakers that made RA 10666 did not have the knowledge about lives of the people living in the mountain ranges across Caraga Region.

“This law that they have passed is very insensitive to our needs here in the province, it is very obvious they don’t have the experience and knowledge to our way of life. We are already having hard time trying to get by day by day, they want to make it harder for us and the children in our community who has [to travel] more than an hour and others even more just to get to school... They should come here and experience this for themselves,” said Cortez who travels from the town of Lianga to 15 kilometers along the mountains leading to conflict areas of Andap Valley.

Lawyer Evita Ricafort, policy adviser of Imagine Law explained the parameters of RA 10666.

“Children safety on board motorcycle act of 2015 is a law prohibiting children in riding on motorcycle but in specific situations... Situations could be public road with heavy volume of vehicle, high density of fast moving vehicles, roads with speed limit of more than 60 kilometer per hour is imposed, even in these situation, there is an exception, that the child can reach the foot pedal; the child can grasp firmly the waist of the driver, and with proper children’s helmet,” said Ricafort.

Ricafort further added that, “I would definitely recommend further study... we have to consider the reality that in these areas there are no other means of transportation... We just need to make sure that the money of the government would go to addressing the plight of the people on these areas so we have to look into all of these areas.”

According to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) 2013 data as sighted by the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Status Report on road safety suggested that out of the 1,513 deaths from road crash incidents, about 53 percent of the deaths are from motorcycle riders and tricycles, 19 percent of the fatality are pedestrians, 14 percent from drivers of four-wheeled vehicles, 11 percent are passengers and two percent cyclists. Civil organization noted that the numbers presented by the data could be underestimation of road crash deaths and road crash injuries due to unreliable data collection and underreporting.

Police Regional Office-Caraga Region stated that they are yet to compile data based on reports from different police municipal offices related to motorcycle crash on both habal-habal and skylab.

Created in June 2016, Imagine Law is a non-stock, non-profit public interest law organization that aims to utilize legal and policy expertise in aid of development in the Philippines through public development and advocacy, research, capacity building, information, education and communication.