More violations exposed in Senate hearing on Tanay bus crash

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The bus in the Tanay crash that killed 15 mostly students was nearly twice the allowable age for roadworthiness, a Senate probe revealed Tuesday.

At the Senate Public Services Committee hearing on the issue, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Chairman Martin Delgra said the bus that serviced more than 50 students on a field trip was 29 years old - almost twice the 15-year limit of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for buses.

15 dead in Tanay bus crash

"The manufacturing date of the bus was actually 1988 so at the time of the accident, the bus was a 29-year-old bus," he said.

A DOTr order in 2002 set the allowable bus age at 15 years. Older units must be phased out.

Alberto Suansing, executive director of advocacy group Philippine Global Road Safety Partnership which conducted an independent investigation on the crash, said the old age of the bus may have caused its brakes to fail.

"Mayroong signs na nasunog dahil it was subjected to intense heat," said Suansing.

[Translation: There are signs the brakes burned due to intense heat]

But this was not the only violation committed by the bus operator, he said.

Suansing said the bus engine number was different from the chassis number.

He mentioned a "pukpok" (tampering)  practice where buses would change major parts to circumvent the 15-year age limit.

Suansing was Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief during the Arroyo administration.

Fourteen students and the bus driver were killed when the bus hit an electric post in Magnetic Hill along the Tanay-Sampaloc Road in Sitio Bayucan, Barangay Sampaloc.

The bus was en route to Sacramento Adventure Camp, also in Tanay, for a field trip to comply with the National Service Training Program.

Some parents claimed their children were forced to attend the trip or they would fail the subject.

Following the crash, the Commission on Higher Education imposed a moratorium on out-of-town and educational field trips.

Stricter regulations

Suansing noted the importance of a Motor Vehicle Inspection System to oversee roadworthiness of vehicles.

But LTO Chief Edgar Galvante said they lack the technology for a thorough inspection of all buses in the country.

"Because of lack of equipment, we rely heavily on the visual and practical examination that the evaluator of the vehicle is subjecting the vehicle," he said.

'Disorganized' investigation

Senate Public Services Committee Chairperson Grace Poe also hit authorities for the apparent disorganized investigation on the incident.

She criticized Chief Supt. Mao Aplasca, Philipppine National Police-CALABARZON director, when the official failed to provide how long bus driver Julian Lacorda has been in his profession.

"I'm so disappointed na wala man lang nagtanong kung ilan taon nang nagmamaneho yung driver na yun," Poe said.

[Translation: I'm so disappointed that no one even asked how long the driver has been driving]

Poe called for the creation of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent body that will investigate transport accidents.

She said the NTSB will be less susceptible to conflicts of interest of government agencies.

"Yung sistema natin palpak dahil hindi nga natin nalalaman kung ilang taon nga ba talaga yung edad ng sasakyan natin dahil nadadaya sa registration," Poe said.

[Translation: Our system is flawed because we don't know how old the vehicle is since it is falsely declared in the registration.]

Stricter issuance of drivers' licenses

Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto III also urged the LTO to be more strict in issuing drivers' licenses.

"Dapat pagrerenew ng lisensya higpitan ninyo, pageksamenin niyo ulit. Grabe hindi lang reckless. Mga antatanga eh," Sotto told Galvante during the hearing.

[Translation: You should be strict in renewing licenses, drivers should again take an exam. It's not just recklessness, it's stupidity.]

Galvante admitted some license application procedures are outdated, adding the agency is  reviewing the manual and exam for license applicants.

The LTFRB said it will hold a drivers academy training with LTO beginning May.