CEBU CITY -- Back-to-back road accidents that killed 40 persons in Cebu in the last three weeks prompted a call for an emergency meeting on Monday of the Regional Council for Road Safety.

Land Transportation Office (LTO) Central Visayas Director Raul Aguilos called for the meeting, to be held in the Sacred Heart Center, to discuss “a specific plan of action” to keep passengers safe.

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The LTO also expects to start testing this week if vehicles operated by the VG&A bus company are roadworthy. One of its buses hit a concrete wall in Don Andres Soriano, Toledo City last Saturday afternoon, killing 15 passengers on the spot.

The franchises of five vehicles operated by VG&A will be suspended for at least 30 days starting Monday, said Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Central Visayas Director Benjie Go.

“We will ground the entire fleet and impose the same sanctions as those imposed on JD,” Go said. He referred to a car rental company whose tour bus fell off the Transcentral Highway last June 13, killing its Filipino driver-operator and 20 foreigners, mostly Iranian doctors.

In a separate interview, LTO Assistant Regional Director Edgar Catarongan said bus operator Dulce Gantuangco will need to present a valid franchise for the bus in Saturday’s accident, or any proof that its certificate of public convenience had been extended.

He said their Traffic Violation System showed the franchise for that bus (GVG-145) expired in 2004.

Under the law, Catarongan said if a bus company is operating a colorum or illegal unit, it will be fined P7,000 and its other franchises, suspended for 120 days.

“There is a big liability for operating without a franchise because, without a franchise, any violation of the driver is also considered a violation of the owner,” Catarongan said.

Driver Diosdado Requiso, 48, said last Saturday the brakes on the Tuburan-bound bus failed while they were going downhill.

Aguilos, citing initial findings of the LTO, said the bus was traveling at high speed and loaded with more than 70 passengers when it approached a curve in Sitio Landing, Barangay Don Andres Soriano (formerly Lutopan).

Less than two kilometers from the site, a trailer truck lost its brakes two weeks ago and hit a group of vendors preparing for a barangay fiesta. Four were killed.

In a separate interview Sunday, bus operator Gantuangco vouched for her driver Requiso.

“Di siya kaskasero nga drayber (He’s not reckless),” she said.

She also denied the bus was overloaded. Aside from the 53-seat capacity, she said the LTO gave them permission for a standing capacity of “as many as 10” passengers.

She said she is ready to comply once LTFRB issues the suspension order. As of Sunday, her five other buses continued to ply their routes.

A suspension will make things difficult for passengers, especially to and from Tuburan. Three of her buses travel from Cebu City to Tuburan, while two serve the Cebu City-Pinamungahan route, via Carcar.

“Makaapekto gyod ni kay makuwangan man ang units. Kami ray nagbiyahe padung sa Tuburan (It will affect transportation because we are the only ones serving Tuburan),” Gantuangco said in a phone interview.

Gantuangco also said she’s not part of the Corominas Bros. bus line. Her bus line is registered under her name.

(Corominas Bros. issued a press statement last Saturday to assure they will take responsibility for the passengers in need of help and to double-check the safety of their buses, without waiting for official orders.)

Gantuangco said her drivers received about P3,000 a week. They get paid P250 per trip.

Also on Sunday, the new chairman of the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (Citom) called on the LTO to check all buses using the south and north bus terminals, following last Saturday’s accident.

Former city councilor Sylvan “Jack” Jakosalem also wants the drivers checked, particularly their skills in handling emergency situations.

“Having three deadly vehicular accidents in three weeks is more than just coincidence,” Jakosalem said.

He believes all buses should be grounded and checked, regardless of its operators. This can be done in batches to keep public transportation to the towns from grinding to a halt, he said.

“They (LTO) don’t have to ground them all together, maybe just in batches, but all should be checked as quickly as possible,” he said.

Jakosalem said his office will be stringently monitoring packed buses leaving the north and south bus terminals to ensure these will not be allowed to pick up more passengers along the way.

“We will enforce this and apprehend them (drivers), if seen. It is in the law that they cannot do that unless there is a designated bus stop,” he said.

Jakosalem said he was told that drivers like to overload the buses because they get commissions for every passenger.

“Then they (drivers) so fast so they can have more round trips and thereby earn more, and that’s a very dangerous practice if it is not monitored,” he said.

According to Director Go of the LTFRB, one problem in vehicular accidents is that most drivers get away without jail terms when the relatives of victims decide not to pursue charges.

“We are consulting our lawyers if LTFRB can act as a complainant so as to ensure that criminal cases will push through until resolution and make sure these reckless drivers will serve jail terms,” Go said.

Go added they will have to review the compensation scheme for bus drivers.

“They overload their buses because they earn a commission per head. They drive very fast so that they can make more round trips, ferrying more passengers, which leads to more earnings. They race against each other on the road and fight over passengers,” Go said.

As of Sunday, the 10 other casualties brought to St. Francis Funeral Homes were identified.

They are Felicidad Arnibal, 61, of Guinabasan, Asturias; Jose Bueno, 61, of Poblacion, Tuburan; Romela Cabañero, 51, of Cantuod, Balamban; Mary Jane Capacite, 20, of Gen. Climaco, Toledo City; Teofilo Colegado, 49, of Jagbuaja, Tuburan; Danilyn Rosal 10, of Guinabasan, Asturias; Norberto Tijano, 40, Soong, Lapu-Lapu City; Jona Vega, 22, of Media Once, Toledo City; Adonis Garbanzos, 75, and his wife Evelyn, 65, of Tisa, Cebu City.

Added to the injured list were Fortellano Abarcas, Vivian Benting, 14; John Patrick Basay, 13; Eddie Wilson Buhiya, 51; Juanito Batolan, 37; Janelle Cabamasa, 22; Reah Cantabaco, 16; Michael Cardinas, 17; Ferlita Fat, 63; Maricel Gabunada, 22; Warli Omandace, Anne Shane Panulaya, 16; Sarah Resaga, 17; Mirasol Sarlatan, 23; Cecilia Tallo, 45; Jerome Tecson, 32; and Sitarilyn Tundag, 26. (EOB/KAL/PDF/Sun.Star Cebu)