IT WAS an accident.
This was how Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, a town executive and an education official described the tragedy that left seven school children and two others dead on Friday morning, July 19, 2019 in Boljoon, southern Cebu, as they were making their way to a sports activity.
The other two fatalities were a mother and a sibling of one of the pupils. Sixteen more passengers, who were from ages nine to 12 years old, were injured and brought to Boljoon District Hospital for treatment.
“That’s a tragedy. Aksidente man gud na, di man ta kahibaw unless dunay investigation kung unsa gyud (It was an accident and we will not know what really happened unless there’s an investigation). We will cover all the hospital expenses. Certainly, not only the hospital and burial assistance, we will also extend financial assistance to those who lost their loved ones as well as those that are still in the hospital. All medicines and treatment needed will be shouldered also by the Provincial Government,” Garcia said at the sidelines of the first general assembly of barangay captains on Friday.
Back in 2011, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued a memorandum forbidding local government units (LGU) from using dump trucks to ferry people.
The measure came after a dump truck owned by the Municipality of Barili overturned, killing 10 passengers and injuring more than 50 people on their way to a funeral in August 2011.
The matter made headlines for weeks. Garcia, who was the governor of Cebu then, cried foul on the agency’s memorandum saying that using dump trucks as passenger vehicles had become a common practice in mountain barangays.
Then Dumanjug Mayor Nelson Garcia (then League of Municipalities in the Philippines Cebu chapter president) even suggested to former DILG 7 director Pedro Noval to let LGUs use dump trucks on a case-to-case basis like emergencies, especially since ambulances can’t maneuver their way to the mountains.
Heeding the call of mayors, Noval then exempted the use of dump trucks for emergencies from the ban, provided that it should not be overloaded.
There has not been any fatal vehicular accident involving dump trucks since, until Friday morning.
Boljoon Mayor Merlou Derama said he knew about the DILG memo, but with far-flung areas not having the luxury of transportation, using dump trucks may be inevitable.
“Yes, there is a memo. But what could I do when the teachers sought vehicular assistance? This is also what we usually use. We always use this for occasions and activities. That’s what we also use in the mountains,” he said in an interview.
The Municipality of Boljoon bought the truck in 2016. Derama said it was in great working condition before the accident happened and its driver was one of the town’s most experienced personnel.
“Na-timingan lang gyud (It was unfortunate that it happened),” he added.
The same sentiment was shared by Cebu Province Schools Division Superintendent Rhea Mar Angtud, adding that the tragic accident was beyond anybody’s control. She left for Boljoon Friday morning after receiving the report.
“The school personnel were just doing their best to find an available vehicle so that they could make it to the venue. Usually, it’s the LGU that has the heart to help. We can’t just play the blame game because everything was done (in the proper way). There was a permit; the town checked the truck. They tried their best to prevent any untoward incident, but the accident still happened. The town even chose that mini dump truck since it was new,” she said in Cebuano.
Aside from the sports activity, the passengers were also supposed to attend a nutrition month culminating program and another community event as part of a tripartite activity.
Angtud said the district schools officials decided to stop the sports activity following the road mishap, while the nutrition month program pushed through.
In an interview at the sidelines of the barangay captains’ first general assembly, Garcia said all chiefs of district hospitals in the south were instructed to give immediate assistance.
The Province had also coordinated with the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center and Chong Hua Hospital, where one of the passengers was taken.
Aside from this, the Capitol also sent social workers to attend to the families’ psychosocial needs.
According to Ruben Niere, Boljoon public information officer, the passengers of the mini dump truck were students of Nangka Elementary School, San Antonio Elementary School and Upper Becerril Elementary School.
They were on their way to attend the opening of a district meet in the town center of Boljoon.
Police Master Sergeant Nelson Saquibal, traffic investigator of Boljoon Police Station, said the truck was traversing a downhill portion in Upper Becerril when the driver Danilo Niere lost control of the vehicle, causing it to fall on its side.
Several of the children were thrown off while others were pinned down by the dump truck.
Several of them died immediately while others were still brought to the Boljoon District Hospital before they were declared dead.
Saquibal said the incident occured 12 kilometers away from the poblacion town.
The driver was also injured and was brought to the Boljoon District Hospital but later put under arrest.
Cases of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries and damage to government property will be filed against him.
Saquibal said Danilo told them he lost control of the brake of the dump truck but they will still verify this.
“Our finding is he really lost control because if he did not lost control, there would have been no accident. We can’t confirm that the brakes failed. We could only say that if we were sitting beside him,” Saquibal said.
Earlier Friday, at about 3:45 a.m., a passenger bus also fell on its side in Barangay Gawi, Oslob leaving 18 passengers injured.
Police Corporal Judel Rivera said the bus driver Lozano Jesus Lunday, 43, told him he encountered a vehicle and was dazzled by its glare while driving along the highway.
When he tried to avoid it he bumped into a waiting shed which led the vehicle to fall into its side.
Four of those injured were minors including a 2-year-old child. Those injured were brought to the Oslob District Hospital for treatment.
Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) 7 said the memorandum banning the use of dumptrucks as public conveyance is still in effect.
DILG 7 Assistant Regional Director Maria Lucino said they will wait for the written report from the Municipal Local Government Operation Officer (MLGOO) of Boljoon before they will act on the matter.
She said once they get the report, an investigation will be made.
“We still have to verify who owned the truck, whether it is the municipality or private-owned,” Lucino said.
Gov. Garcia, on the other hand, responded to social media criticisms regarding her order to recall Province-issued ambulances assigned to the municipalities.
The governor issued Memorandum Circular 2-2019 last June 30 instructing the Provincial General Services Office (PGSO) to immediately recall all Province-owned vehicles and equipment assigned through memorandum receipts to different LGUs and offices.
Last July 5, Garcia issued Memorandum Circular 10-2019, informing the PGSO and all chiefs of hospitals that ambulances directly assigned under memorandum receipts to district and provincial hospitals may remain in their locations.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Garcia said the decision was part of a “province-wide move to rationalize the use of functioning ambulance units.”
According to the governor, the ambulances recalled from the towns were transferred instead to the district and provincial hospitals.
In the case of Boljoon, the ambulance unit was issued by the administration of then governor and now Vice Gov. Hilario Davide III.
It was sent up north to the Sogod District Hospital, located approximately 178.7 kilometers from Boljoon, after its ambulance was found unserviceable.
“As much as we would like to give to all LGUs, as of now, pending the purchase of more ambulance, we must make sure that all four provincial hospitals and 12 district hospitals are equipped with an ambulance. This is why we had to recall those assigned to the town halls, so that we would be able to transfer these to the hospitals,” Garcia said. (From AYB of Superbalita Cebu/RTF/JJL)