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Sunday, March 3, 2024

LTFRB suspends Ceres bus units after 17 killed in Antique road crash

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Seventeen people died and 11 were injured when a passenger bus careered off a road on a “killer curve” and plunged down a mountain in the central Philippines, officials said Wednesday.

The government immediately suspended all vehicles of the Ceres Bus Liner plying that route as it began its investigation.

The bus was traveling in Hamtic municipality in Antique province when the crash happened Tuesday afternoon, provincial disaster agency head Roderick Train said.

Seven people were in critical condition in hospital and four others were stable, Train said, describing the section of road as “accident prone.”

One Kenyan national was among those killed, and a second Kenyan was among those critically injured.

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Gov. Rhodora Cadiao earlier told radio station dzRH there were four Kenyans on board the bus that was carrying mostly residents of Antique.

Local police later clarified there were only two. Another body was still being identified.

“I call that place ‘killer curve’… it was already the second Ceres bus that fell off there,” said Cadiao.

“With the many deaths, that road must be abandoned… and make another road to make that area safe.”

The heavily forested ravine was around 30 meters deep, Cadiao said.

Train said the bus “fell from a high place,” resulting in many casualties.

“Based on the witnesses, it was a mechanical failure. The driver lost control, possible brake failure,” Train said.

Cadiao visited the hospital where survivors were being treated for their injuries. She promised government assistance for medical and funeral expenses of victims.

Train said the search and rescue operation had finished and authorities would now focus on retrieving the bus.

“We searched for the bodies until this morning,” Train said. “It was tiring to go up and down.”

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) meted a 90-day suspension on Ceres Bus Liner, including the 15 buses plying that route.

LTFRB Chairperson Teofilo Guadiz III said roadworthiness is determined when a vehicle is registered, but it is incumbent upon the bus company to make sure their bus is in good shape every time it travels.

He said they would examine the company’s ledgers and determine the condition of the bus before it left the terminal.

“Of course, we will look into the condition of the driver,” he added.

The LTFRB has started a site inspection and is coordinating with the insurance company to compensate the victims.

Reports said the bus was bound for Antique from Iloilo City when the vehicle encountered a mechanical failure and overshot the permanent concrete barrier on the zigzag and mountainous road in Barangay Igbucagay before falling into the ravine.

The operator of the passenger bus Vallacar Transit, Inc. (VTI), said it would cooperate with any investigation the government is conducting.

“Vallacar Transit, Inc. would like to express its most heartfelt apologies to those who were involved in the incident,” the company said. “We would also like to send our sincerest condolences to the bereaved families.”

VTI said it will give financial assistance to the victims and their families, including shouldering their medical and burial expenses.

In an interview on Unang Balita, Hamtic Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office Rafael Magbanua said the site of the crash is a known accident-prone area, with crashes in 2018, 2019 and 2023.

To avoid accidents, Magbanua said the road has been expanded to four lanes and concrete barriers have been set up on the cliff.

Cadiao, in an interview Tuesday night, said one of the passengers who was healthy enough to be interviewed told her that the driver checked the bus as if there was something wrong with it before they got onto the “mountain highway.”

It was on the highway that the driver repeatedly honked the bus horn to indicate that he had lost control of the vehicle.

The governor also said the bus fell into a portion of the road that had no side barrier.

Senator Grace Poe on Wednesday renewed her push for the pending bill to create a National Transportation Safety Board that will solely be responsible for investigating transportation-related incidents in air, land and sea, including railways and pipeline systems.

The proposed measure will cover strict inspection of public vehicles, driver’s licensing and safety measures to prevent road accidents.

She said the concerned agencies must also ensure that the fees collected from vehicle registration and relevant taxes go to road safety measures such as street lights, railings, and sign boards.

“We are enraged with the loss of lives that could have been prevented,” she said.

Such crashes continue to happen because vehicles that are not roadworthy are still allowed to ply the highways, and some drivers get hold of the steering wheel even without rigorous training, Poe said.

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