At least 19 dead in Occidental Mindoro bus crash

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 21) — At least 19 died and 21 others injured in a bus crash in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro south of Manila, around 9 p.m. Tuesday.

The victims were brought to the Occidental Mindoro Provincial Hospital in Mamburao and San Sebastian District Hospital in Sablayan. Thirteen bodies remain unidentified. Police said the driver, Arno Panganiban, was among the dead.

Occidental Mindoro Provincial Administrator Mariano Montales said the local government will shoulder the victims' hospital expenses.

Land Transportation and Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) board member Aileen Lizada said the Passenger Accident Management and Insurance agency will also give P200,000 each to the bereaved families for the insurance coverage. Financial assistance will also be given to the injured.

The Sablayan Disaster Operation Center advised relatives help identify the victims.

According to reports from local disaster officials and the police, the brakes of Dimple Star Transport bus with license plate TYU 708 and body number 7805 failed and the bus fell off to a 15- to 20-meter cliff near Patrick Bridge.

The bridge is between the boundary of barangays Batongbuhay and San Agustin, according to Sablayan Disaster Operation Center.

The bus was bound for Manila from San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.

Montales said the area is known for vehicular accident.

"Accident-prone yung area kasi mountainous area yan, pero hindi siya ganoon kahaba. Nasa standard naman yung sloping. Kaya lang, maraming kurbada yan, parang tatlong kurbada kaya accident-prone area," Montales told CNN Philippines.

(Translation: It was a mountainous area so it is accident-prone, but it's not that long. It has standard sloping. But it has a lot of curves, it has around three curves so it's accident prone.)

There was also construction in the area, Montales added.

"Yung lugar naman, kahit under construction, clear siya. May mga signages naman ang DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) doon sa area. Hindi masyadong maliwanag, isa siguro sa nakaapekto yun sa paningin ng driver," Montales said.

(Translation: The area is clear even if it is under construction. The Department of Public Works and Highways has signages there. It was dark, it probably affected the sight of the driver.)

Montales said he talked to one of the survivors seated near the rear portion of the bus.

"More or less yung naka ligtas nasa huli, makikita mo talaga yung unahan ng bus, sirang-sira," Montales said. "Ang napansin niya, sabi niya, nagchange ng gear yung driver, hindi na talaga pumapasok saka nawalan na ng preno pababa."

(Translation: More or less the survivors were those seated at the back because as you can see, the front part was really destroyed. He noticed the driver was trying to change gears but it did not work, and the bus already lost its brake when they were going downhill.)

The LTFRB issued a preventive suspension order on 10 units of Dimple Star Transport after the crash.

LTFRB's Lizada said they went to the Dimple Star in Cubao, Quezon City Tuesday morning to talk to its management, and ended up halting the trip of two buses after seeing nearly worn out tires.

She advised the bus terminal to conduct its own inspection to make sure passengers are safe.

"Wag niyo na hong hintayin yung (Don't wait for the) preventive suspension, on your own, check your buses, we do not like another road crash waiting to happen. Ang byahe po nito mga (The trip lasts around) 10 to 12 hours, anything can happen on the road," Lizada said.

Lizada said she personally talked to the passengers to explain.

"Inakyat ko ho lahat ng nasa bus, I had to explain, may mga bata po doon so medyo I had goosebumps, and I said, ang role ng government ay they want you to arrive safely. Naiintindihan naman ho nila," the LTFRB added.

(Translation: I went up to explain to the passengers. There were children, I had goosebumps. I told them, the role of the government is to assure you will arrive safely.)

Lizada said she Dimple Star's legal counsel, who said they will comply.

Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe, chair of the Committee on Public Services, expressed condolences to the victims, adding she is "enraged with the loss of lives due to events that could have been prevented."

"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.

The senator added, there were previous accidents involving the bus line which also resulted in fatalities.

Poe called for the passage of the bill creating a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which will be responsible for looking into transport-related recurring accidents.

"The missing link in these accident prevention measures is the NTSB. There is a jumble of transport agencies, but there is no 'go-to agency' that will be able to unravel and explain major transportation accidents," Poe said.