BAGUIO CITY -- The Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) is now investigating inconsistencies in the franchise of the ill-fated Eso-Nice bus that crashed Wednesday, killing 41 people.

DOTC-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) Director Federico Mandapat said they are specifically looking into the claim of Eso-Nice Transport Corporation that the franchise of the ill-fated bus is owned by a certain Arsenio Monis.

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Monis is an associate of Eso-Nice.

The bus firm's officer-in-charge Nicasio Cayabyab said Monis's failure to face the public was due to "death threats," but he promised to show up at the hearing set on August 23 at DOTC-CAR.

Cayabyab also said the company only has 19 bus units, but its associates are now numbering to more than 30 units.

He said the company is paying for the franchise of their associates, which in turn pay for the maintenance and parking rentals.

But Mandapat said the DOTC considers the situation as part of the "kabit system," which might be a violation of existing transport laws.

He said they are also looking into the company's intra region franchise as it showed Eso-Nice was issued franchise in 1996.

"If the bus was issued a franchise to travel to Baguio before January 10, 1996, then they are exempted from the current moratorium of franchise issuance in Baguio," Mandapat said.

He, however, said they will wait for the hearing next week, as the bus company will still show pertinent papers involving the legality of the franchise.

Mandapat on Thursday served a 30-day suspension order to Eso-Nice Transport Corporation in view of the accident that also injured eight people.

The order, which was received by Cayabyab, took effect immediately last Thursday.

Mandapat said initial report indicated the accident was caused by a mechanical defect and human error on the part of the driver of the ill-fated bus.

He said while on preventive suspension, 19 other units of the bus company will also be subjected to roadworthiness tests to be conducted by the Motor Vehicle Inspection Station at the Land Transportation Office in San Fernando City, Pampanga.

The DOTC also directed the bus company to show cause why its franchise should not be cancelled or revoked.

The company, meanwhile, reported that bus driver Romeo Subban is now out of danger. He is, however, closely guarded by police at the hospital where he was confined for treatment.

Subban was already charged with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide.

The bus he drove is covered by a Unitrans "no risk, no fail" insurance claim that ensures a P60,000 benefit for deaths and P12,500 benefit for those injured.

Unitrans representative Elizabeth Consolacion said only 12 families have so far claimed for their insurance as most of them are still grieving at this moment.

Mandapat said based on documents presented by Cayabyab, Suddan and other Eso-Nice drivers attended the Cordillera Values Orientation Seminar for drivers and conductors that taught proper driving and other highway rules.

He said according to Cayabyab, the company has also been maintaining its buses well every three days as reported by the driver and the company mechanic.

Mandapat also said aside from Eso-Nice, there are many buses plying Cordillera routes that are older than two decades.

He said they have the current numbers of taxis and jeepneys but their data on operating buses in the region have not been detailed yet.

He added many of the bus, however, have rebuilt type of chassis, which is allowed even if the body of the bus is already old.

"This is because existing transport laws allow buses to get franchises after they are rebuilt as long as they get another chassis," he said.

Taxis, meanwhile, have a motor vehicle age requirement of not exceeding 13 years unlike buses and jeepneys where there is no motor vehicle age limit for operation, he added.

President Benigno Aquino III earlier ordered the Land Transportation Office and Highway Patrol Group to expedite the investigation and study the entire transport industry to find what the government could do to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The President said bus drivers should undergo reevaluation of driving skills to prevent accidents on roads.

He noted that there has been lack of adherence to standards in road construction that lead to several bus incidents in the country. (JM Agreda of Sun.Star Baguio/Sunnex)