MANILA—Two senators want stricter rules and better systems on road transport safety to avoid repeats of incidents such as the bus accident in Tanay, Rizal which killed around 13 college students late last month.
During the Senate Committee on Public Services probe into the tragedy on Tuesday, Sen. Grace Poe, committee chair, said it was clear that both transport and school authorities were at fault for negligence.
The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and Land Transportation Office (LTO) failed to properly inspect the bus, while the school, Bestlink College Novaliches also failed to assign teachers to monitor their students.
Sen. Vicente Sotto III, like Poe, wanted answers to why the 29-year-old bus was allowed to run in the first place. Earlier reports cited the age of the bus at 15-years-old.
LTO chief Ed Galvante admitted that the office relied on physical examination of registered public vehicles to determine its age because of lacking resources for inspection. The office needed to upgrade their inspection systems.
Bestlink College Pres. Maria Vicente said that the school initially hired another bus company Harana Tours, but the students were transferred to Panda Tours. She took into consideration recommendations to deploy safety officers with students on field trips.
Poe lamented how there was no primary agency tasked to investigate road accidents and renewed her call for a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to conduct independent probes on transport-related accidents.
She previously filed Senate Bill No. 162 or the NTSB Act which seeks to form a board tasked to investigate accidents involving transportation, such as aircraft, highway accidents, railroads, pipelines, and major marine accidents.
Under the measure, the board will be headed by a chairman to be appointed by the President while members of the board will be required to have at least three years of experience in administering transportation.
“There is no primary agency tasked to investigate all of these accidents. These agencies don’t have a protocol. It’s not clear who the first responders are,” Poe said.
“With an NTSB, you have a body to conduct special studies and recommend the proper protocol to be followed by other agencies,” she added.
She said that allowing LTFRB and LTO to conduct their own investigation on the matter was in itself a “conflict of interest.”
Her committee will soon prepare a report to be submitted to the plenary upon resumption of session in May. Congress will adjourn on March 18 until May 1.
Poe, meanwhile, said that she remained hopeful that the Senate would eventually pass the emergency powers bill to address the country’s transport woes although delayed.
She said that since the Senate is going on a Holy Week recess on March 18, the measure might be approved when it resumes sessions in May.
Her measure, Senate Bill No. 1284 or the proposed Traffic and Congestion Crisis Act, is currently being debated on in Senate plenary discussions. She sponsored the bill for plenary approval last Dec. 14.
“We lack time. It is sad for me to say, but I think it (the measure) should be passed this coming May because if we would not pass it by then, it would be useless,” Poe stressing that it was called “emergency” powers after all.
Poe said that when Senate resumes from its break on May 1, the measure will have one month from May 2 until June 2 to pass the emergency powers bill before adjournment of session starting June 3.
However, she said that while it might hurdle the Senate, there was no certainty that it would hurdle the House of Representatives (HoR).
“Even if this will be passed in the Senate, it’s a different story in the House. Even if we pass this (measure) here they have not even reached the period of interpellation yet,” she added.
The tourist bus Panda Coach Tourist and Transpo, which bumped into an electrical post while traveling along Sitio Bayucal in Brgy. Sampaloc in Tanay, allegedly lost its brake and hit a post.
Reports also noted that the students were going to attend a camping activity as part of their National Service Training (NSTP) Program at Sacramento Adventure Camp in Tanay when the accident took place.