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19 dead, 21 hurt in Occidental Mindoro bus crash

Mindoro bus crash

Rescuers try to extricate trapped passengers from a bus that lay on its side after it careened off the road and plunged into a ravine at Barangay Batong Buhay in Sablayan town in Occidental Mindoro. (Photo courtesy of Sablayan MDRRMC)

Published: 6:57 a.m., March 21, 2018 | Updated: 1:01 a.m., March 22, 2018

CITY OF CALAPAN — A bus headed for Manila crashed into a 15-meter-deep ravine in Sablayan town, Occidental Mindoro province, killing 19 people and injuring 21 others in the deadliest road accident in the country since December last year, police said on Wednesday.

The bus owned by Dimple Star Transport was traveling on a winding downhill stretch of the national highway that was under repair.

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It smashed into a railing at the approach to Patrick Bridge before landing on its side at the bottom of the ravine at Barangay Batong Buhay around 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

The provincial police director, Senior Supt. Romie Estepa, said the driver, who was among those killed, apparently lost control of the vehicle, but investigators could not immediately say whether this was due to human error or mechanical failure.

The bus left San Jose, one of the southernmost towns of the province, at 5:20 p.m. on its way to Abra de Ilog town where it was to board a roll-on, roll-off vessel to Batangas City for the trip to Manila.

Survivor’s account

Passenger Normina Labaniego, a resident of Sablayan, said she survived because she was seated at the rear of the bus. She said most of the fatalities were in the front-row seats.

“We crawled out of the bus. It was dark, people were shouting for help, especially mothers who were looking for their children,” she said.

The 45-year-old dressmaker suffered severe back pain and cuts to her face that required stitches.

In addition to driver Arno Panganiban, Estepa identified the fatalities as conductor Erwin Ebuenga and passengers Teresita Tupagan, Elizabeth dela Cruz, Marciano Ramos, Verginia Ramos, Lolita Bayle, Leahflor Borlado, Anselma Gomez, Gilbert Laguardia Jr., Robert Joso, Gloria Gabuco, Cely Pama, Nelie Alvaro, Rodolfo Santiago, Percival Flores, Rudy Bacani, Judith Gabuco and Josie Salcedo.

Six of the injured were being treated at San Sebastian District Hospital in Sablayan, while 15 others were taken to the provincial hospital in Mamburao town.

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Sablayan Mayor Eduardo Gadiano said the local government would pay for embalming of the dead and provide financial assistance to those hospitalized.

Grounded buses

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) grounded nine other Dimple Star buses on the company’s Mindoro-Manila route for 30 days.

The company has 120 buses covered by 10 franchises.

The LTFRB ordered Hilbert Napat, operator of Dimple Star, to show cause in writing within 72 hours why his franchise, or certificate of public convenience, should not be suspended or revoked.

Napat was also ordered to comply with several requirements, including the inspection of the grounded buses for their roadworthiness and a road safety seminar and compulsory drug tests for the company’s drivers and conductors.

Insurance coverage

Napat said the fatalities were insured for up to P200,000 each, while those injured would receive P20,000.

Even so, the LTFRB directed Napat to show proof that his company had paid insurance coverage for the accident victims.

ArCris Canillo, of the Sablayan Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office who was at the accident site 15 minutes after the crash, said people living nearby were the first to aid the bus passengers.

Highway fatalities are alarmingly high in the country due to poor traffic law enforcement, the dilapidated condition of vehicles, and a lack of safety features like signs and railings, especially in far-flung provinces.

A bus-jeepney collision on Christmas Day last year killed 20 people in La Union province.

Rage over bus accidents

Sen. Grace Poe, an advocate of traffic safety, expressed sympathy to the families of the victims while also voicing rage that such accidents were preventable.

“Sadly, the list of tragic road accidents and their casualties continue to increase because vehicles that are not roadworthy or even those we label as rolling coffins are still allowed to ply the roads with near impunity,” Poe said in a statement.

She called for support for a Senate bill that would create a National Transportation Safety Board and other measures such as strict inspections of public transportation vehicles and drivers’ licensing. —With reports from Jhesset O. Enano, Christine O. Avendaño, AFP and AP

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