Palarong Pambansa

LTFRB: Florida bus was ‘private’ vehicle

A hearing conducted by the LTFRB on February 19 reveals that the ill-fated bus that killed 14 people in Bontoc was not approved for use as a public utility vehicle

FIRST HEARING. The LTFRB and counsels of the bus companies involved face Lei Jimenez, widow of actor and activist Tado Jimenez, one of the casualties in the Florida bus incident. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – “On paper,” it belonged to one bus company. But the “beneficial owner” turned out to be a different company all together.

Terms and technicalities flooded a Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) hearing in connection with the ill-fated GV Florida Transport bus, which fell into a ravine in Bontoc, Mountain Province, and instantly killed 14 passengers.

The bus, it turns out, was not approved for use as a public utility vehicle.

The LTFRB asked GV Florida Transport to explain why the engine and chassis numbers on the “Florida bus,” actually belonged to Dagupan Bus Company, a different bus company. 

During the hearing, Florida’s legal counsel Alex Versoza said the bus was owned by Dagupan Bus, but only “on paper.” The statement prompted LTFRB Chair Winston Ginez to snap: “What is the difference between ‘on paper’ and an actual fact?”

The bus was so new that it bore a green plate number – meaning it was a private vehicle that could not be used as a public utility bus.

GV Florida couldn’t apply for sale and transfer documents because they were waiting for the results of an application to extend the validity of Dagupan Bus Company’s franchises.

In order to operate the bus, GV Florida had to “borrow” another one – this time, from Mountain Province Cable Tours. “Kaya nahiram ‘yung isa,” said Versoza. (That’s why they borrowed another plate number.)

The LTFRB ordered the Dagupan Bus Company to explain in writing why they shouldn’t be dragged into the investigation.

Ginez said the LTFRB will conduct an on-site inspection and hearing in Bontoc on February 28. Eyed as witnesses are representatives from the Deparment of Public Works and Highways’ regional office, the regional police, as well as the driver and conductor of the bus.

Shows and no-shows

The hearing, the first conducted on the Bontoc incident, was well-attended by the companies’ lawyers, several family and friends of victims, and the media.

Absent from the hearing though was Norberto Cue Sr, owner of Mt Province Cable Tours. In a text message to Versoza, Cue explained that he was already in the area but didn’t proceed because he was worried about his safety.

The remark, which was read at the beginning of the hearing, drew criticism from Lei Jimenez, the widow of artist and activist Tado Jimenez, one of the casualties in the incident.

“Siya pa ang natakot?” Jimenez said quietly. (He has the gall to be worried about safety?)

Fourteen passengers of the bus died on site, while at least 32 more were injured. Lei on Wednesday morning staged a silent protest right outside the GV Florida Transport Office in Manila by shaving off her hair. It was her way of demanding justice for victims and remembering her late husband.

According to a spokeperson of Dakila, an organization of artists co-founded by Tado, the family did not receive any compensation from GV Florida. Other survivors shared the same story to Rappler, saying that, at most, assurance of help was “sketchy.”

Compensation

Versoza said the company spent “at least P3 million” in hospital expenses for the injured. After the hearing, Ginez announced that the insurance money for those who died in the incident would already be given out.

The P150,000 for each family was raised by GV Florida Transport and an insurance consortium. Versoza said P100,000 came from the bus company, while P50,000 came from the Passenger Accident Management and Insurance Agency and UCPB General Insurance Company. 

Ginez said that they gave victims of the incident “special consideration.” The board’s insurance typically doesn’t cover accidents involving “colorum” buses. 

Also present at the hearing was Benjamin Sicam, the father of artist David Sicam, one of the casualties in the incident. Ginez, along with insurance officials and representatives of GV Florida, publicly handed over the checks to Mrs Jimenez and Mr Sicam.

Mrs Jimenez, however, asked that she receive the check in private – out of view from the cameras in the hearing. After the hearing, however, Mrs Jimenez left the venue.

The older Sicam said he “appreciated” the P150,000 but wished it came sooner. Asked by reporters if the money was “enough,” Sicam said, “Nothing will ever be enough, but this is appreciated.”

Versoza asked the LTFRB to clarify what would happen to buses that passed the board’s road worthiness tests. The board earlier slapped a 30-day preventive suspension on the company, pending its investigation.

“Minor defects that were noted have been corrected,” said Versoza, referring to the buses that passed the Land Transportation Office’s standards.

But Ginez gave GV Florida Transport until March 3 to reply to all of the board’s questions about the incident, adding that the LTFRB will decide on the case before the 30-day suspension lapses on March 7. – Rappler.com

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