TRAGEDY struck before noon of Wednesday, August 18, 2010 in a curve along the national highway at Barangay Bannangan, Sablan, Benguet. A 50-seater passenger bus operated by Eso-Nice plummeted more than 100 feet into a ravine along the road killing 41 of its passengers, including some children.
The incident also inflicted injuries, some seriously, on eight other passengers including the bus driver, identified as Romeo Subang Jr. All were rushed by rescue teams to the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center for treatment.
The fully loaded bus was barely ten kilometers away from its main station near Baguio's Burnham Park when the accident occurred.
Subang told investigators that the brakes of the bus failed to respond as he attempted to negotiate the downward curve portion of the road. According to the bus conductor John Patrick Flores, the bus driver reportedly tried to stop the speeding carrier by hitting some concrete barriers along the road, but to no avail.
Gaining velocity with its heavy load, the bus careened to the ravine which proved fatal to majority of the passengers. In fact, the plummeting bus hit and ripped off portions of the GI roofing of a house on the curve. However, this did not slow down or stop the fall of the ill-fated vehicle with its human load to the deep gorge.
At least three Manila dailies headlined the unfortunate incident which caught the attention of President Benigno Aquino III. The President said the claim of Subang that the brake failure of his bus appeared as a "lame" excuse for the accident. This Chief Executive immediately directed the Land Transportation Office, the Philippine National Police and the Highway Patrol Group to determine the real cause of the accident and submit their recommendations. Mr. Aquino showed keen interest in the result of the investigation he ordered to determine what remedial measures are needed to curve any repetition of similar incidents in the future.
It will be recalled that other road accidents along the three road arteries to and from Baguio also happened in the past, resulting to loss of lives and damage to property, particularly the bus itself.
These past road accidents took place on May 11, 2005 when a Byron Bus Line only 20 minutes after leaving Baguio for Dagupan City and cruising along Marcos Highway developed mechanical trouble, turned turtle and crashed against big boulder tearing the bus into halves. At least, 27 passengers died while 17 others were wounded.
Prior to this, on January 20, 1999 another Baguio passenger bus bound for La Union overshot a sharp curve also at the Bannangan area, Sablan close to where last Wednesday's accident took place. Twenty-two passengers were killed including the driver and conductor. At that time, heavy fog was said to have enveloped the area which may have caused the driver to miscalculate the curve and slow down in the process.
In the past, similar accidents also took place along Kennon road resulting to passenger deaths and injuries.
After giving orders to concerned agencies to investigate the Sablan incident, Mr. Aquino will wait for submission of the results of the investigation with the end in view of coming up with remedial measures to minimize, if not totally stop the occurrences of similar unfortunate incidents in the future.
He said after knowledge of what caused such tragic accidents, corrective measures could be taken such as legislation if needed, improving the design of the roads or even initiating better education and orientation for passenger bus drivers.
Conversant with the Naguilian Road terrain, the President said it is not a very steep road unlike certain portions of either Kennon or Marcos Highways. He said professional bus drivers plying the road should be well acquainted with the portion of the road where the accident took place.
In Wednesday's fatal road mishap in Sablan, Benguet the road leading to the crash site was generally in good condition, the weather was sunny and fine without thick fog to obscure the road view. In fact, it was not even raining.
This seems to point out the fact that the accident may have been caused by driver's error and miscalculation as well as the condition of the bus which may not have truly road worthy or both.
Undersecretary Romeo Momo of the Department of Public Works and Highways said initial findings of investigation on the crash appears to indicate that the accident may have been the result of human error or mechanical failure. For his part, bus conductor Flores said that before the bus proceeded on its trip to San Fernando City, La Union he and the bus driver had some inkling that there was something wrong with the brakes of the bus. Despite this, the bus still proceeded on its way to La Union which ended in disaster.
To forestall a repeat of similar disastrous incidents in the future, government officials have come up with certain suggestion and recommendation, apart from the one month suspension of the franchise of the concerned bus company initiated by the regional office of the Department of Transportation and Communication. All drivers of the passenger bus company were also ordered to undergo drug testing as well as re-evaluation of their driving skills.
Also, government transport authorities may also look into the conditions of other units of the Eso-Nice bus company to find out on how road worthy they really are. Commuters who have knowledge of the condition of the said buses say three passenger carriers are rather old and appear reconditioned. Perhaps, newer buses may have to be fielded for better efficiency.
Reacting to the bus accident, company officials should initiate prior check-ups of the buses before embarking on their scheduled trips. This is to ascertain that buses allowed on the road are really in top condition with particular interest on brake mechanisms.
Resulting from the January 1999 accident also in Bannangan, Sablan, Benguet, a sturdy concrete block has been set up along the highway on the exact spot of the crash. It may help if road signages in this part of Naguilian Road are set up warning bus drivers on the dangerous road curves.
In the final analysis, however, so much depends on the expertise, competence and experience of the bus driver. There is no question that the lives of the passengers while the bus is in motion are in the hands of the man behind the wheel. It is imperative that the driver is aware of this responsibility and that once the individual passenger is given a ticket for passage. The bus company through the driver is under contract and obligated to deliver the bus passengers safe and sound to their destination. The driver's responsibility in this regard should always be in his consciousness and that all precautions must be employed to ensure safe and comfortable passage for all of the bus passengers.
Precaution in this regard should include compliance by the driver of road courtesies and regulations, moderate speed and non-erratic driving. Bus company operators must always drum this idea in the minds of their bus drivers. After all, mistakes and errors committed by the driver resulting to death or injuries to passengers also include bus owners as liable for the incident even financial consideration and imprisonment as they are deemed subsidiarily liable for any inconvenience, much less death or injuries suffered by the passengers on account of irresponsibility of their bus drivers.
All these approaches should be able to minimize, if not totally avoid the occurrence of similar disastrous incidents in the future not to mention the continued patronage by the riding public of their carrier buses.