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Search on for clues to deadly Bontoc bus crash

/ 03:05 AM February 10, 2014

This unit of the GV Florida Transport Inc fell off a ravine on the morning of Feb. 7, 2014, landing at a small farm in Barangay (village)Talubin, Bontoc town in Mt. Province. The bus came from Manila. The accident killed 14 people, including 2 foreigners and comedian Arvin “Tado” Jimenez whose remains were driven back to Manila on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. RICHARD BALONGLONG/Inquirer Northern Luzon

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—The search has begun for evidence that would explain why a passenger bus bound for Mountain Province fell into a ravine last week, killing 14 people, including comedian Arvin “Tado” Jimenez.

A team of mechanical forensic experts was sent to Bontoc to determine the condition of the GV Florida Transport Inc. bus, Celina Claver, Cordillera director of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), said on Sunday.

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Bontoc police are also searching for a missing memory card, which supposedly recorded the accident on Friday.

The Inquirer was told by a survivor on Sunday that one of the fatalities, Giovanni “Bam” Morillo, was near the driver and had recorded the events leading to the fall using a high-definition camera.

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The survivor, who was taken to a Baguio City hospital, said he and Morillo were in the same row behind the bus driver, Edgar Renon, who lost control of the steering wheel before the bus fell into a ravine in Barangay (village) Talubin.

Bontoc police on Sunday said search teams and rescuers managed to retrieve two sets of GoPro cameras, which were returned to the relatives and friends of the victims. One of the cameras, however, did not have its memory card.

The police said they would continue searching for the memory card as investigators document the condition of the wreckage and crash site and inventory personal belongings still left there.

The accident happened at 7:20 a.m. Friday. The bus had been traveling for almost 12 hours from Sampaloc, Manila, and was 30 minutes from its terminal in Bontoc when the tragedy struck.

Since 2013, Florida Trans has been fielding a bus to Sagada, a tourist town, and Bontoc in Mountain Province directly from Metro Manila by taking passengers through Nueva Vizcaya and Ifugao provinces, Claver said on Saturday.

Florida Trans uses the fleet of buses it had bought from a Bontoc tour bus company, she said.

30-day preventive suspension

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The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has slapped Florida Trans with a 30-day preventive suspension pending Claver’s investigation.

Heeding that order, the Florida Bus terminal in Tuguegarao City did not open for business on Sunday.

Agents of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) also noted violations in Florida Trans’ terminal in Barangay Pengue Ruyu in Tuguegarao City during an inspection on Saturday.

LTFRB Chair Winston Ginez, who led the removal of the bus plates and the inspection of the vehicles, said they conducted the operation to check if there are other buses that are “illegally operated” by Florida.

On Saturday, the LTFRB issued a 30-day suspension on all 228 units of the bus line after discovering that the license plate of the bus that fell into the ravine belonged on a bus owned by another company, Mountain Province Cable Tours.

“The license plate used by the bus was still registered to Norberto Que Sr., the owner of Mountain Province Cable Tours,” Ginez said.

According to the LTFRB chair, the franchise and the buses were sold to Florida in September last year.

But he noted that Florida did not file with his office an application for sale and transfer and also did not apply for “dropping and substitution of units.”

“They disregarded the LTFRB in both instances and what they did was get the old plate number of the Mountain Province Cable Tours bus line and place it on a Florida bus to make their operation in the area look authorized,” Ginez said.

Florida bus legal counsel Alexander Versoza admitted that the franchises of their 10 buses taking the Sagada-Bontoc-Manila route were still under Que’s name.

“We are still in the process of arranging the documents for the sale and transfer application,” Versoza said.

Avoid ‘abandoning the route’

He explained that while preparing the documents for the pending application, the bus line had to resort to placing old license plates on the buses to avoid “abandoning the route.”

According to Versoza, Florida was still waiting for approval of the extension of franchise validity, which it filed on Feb. 22 last year.

“We planned to submit the requirements for the approval of sale and transfer after the approval of the extension,” the lawyer said.

Ginez said they had talked to the insurance company and it assured them that it would give P150,000 to the survivors of the deceased and P15,000 each to those who were hurt.

“If later on, the survivors suffer permanent defects, there will also be additional benefits,” the LTFRB chair said.

As this developed, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat said he would file a resolution to seek a closer scrutiny into the rules and regulations governing the operations of provincial buses to avoid a repeat of the accident that killed 14 and injured 20 people.

“It’s about time the government took a closer look into how buses are operated to prevent similar deadly accidents from happening,” said Baguilat in a statement.

Baguilat proposed that bus companies remove the boundary system from the compensation scheme of provincial bus drivers and conductors.—With reports from Vincent Cabreza, Richard Balonglong, Melvin Gascon and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon; Maricar B. Brizuela and Gil Cabacungan

 

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