Issues on skyway & highland accidents

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Early this week, I was interviewed by Ms. Jaymee Gamil of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) to comment on the recent series of accidents at the Skyway in my capacity as the Executive Director of InfraWatch (Citizens Infrastructure Integrity WatchDog). The report was prominently published the next day (last Tuesday, March 5, 2014, with the title “Skyway Needs Taller, Stronger Barriers” on the front page of the PDI Metro section.

The position of InfraWatch is that the Skyway should have safety barriers that have the height and the strength that would prevent vehicles from falling down to the road below when accidents occur. The concrete parapets and the metal rail guards must have the proper compressive strength and tensile strength, respectively, to serve their purpose: Help save lives and limbs in cases of accidents at the elevated expressway.

It is also our position that the same safety barriers should apply in other elevated national roads such as in bridges, viaducts and highland zigzag roads where vehicles can fall into ravines and cause deaths and injuries. Hundreds have been injured and killed in these types of accidents in the past decades. In early February, a Florida bus fell off a deep ravine in a barangay of Bontoc, the capital of Mountain province, killing 15 people.

Thus, the Department of Public Works & Highways (DPWH) should have installed the correct concrete barriers and steel guardrails in the Kennon Road, Marcos Highway, Naguilan Road going to Baguio, as well as the Halsema Highway (“Mountain Trail”) that passes through Benguet, Mountain Province and Ifugao in the Cordillera mountains.


However, with the recent highland tragedy last month, the Mayor of Bontoc was the only one with the perspicacity to point out the lack of the road safety barrier that could have prevented the ill-fated Florida passenger bus from plunging 120 meters (close to 400 feet) down from the mountain road.

Clearly, the DPWH has miserably failed in the past three years (2011-2013) with its mandate to provide the required safety barriers up there in the challenging highland roads. The different shapes and sizes of the concrete carriers and metal guardrails along Kennon Road, Marcos Highway, Naguilan Road and Halsema Highway also clearly shows that the DPWH has No Safety Standards that it follows, contrary to its shameless claims.

Likewise, the national government under the leadership of President B.S. Aquino III has miserably failed to address the issue of road transport safety. With the spate of road accidents last February, President Aquino has not even called his meeting with concerned government agencies that he promised three weeks ago. PNoy must have already forgotten what the Office of the President in Malacañang had announced in his name.

Skyway safety issues
Going back to the tragic accidents at the Skyway in the past three months, it now appears that the safety barriers there have not served its purpose. They are not there to prevent accidents from happening, but to help prevent vehicles from falling down when accidents happen that can result in injuries and deaths to both the drivers and passengers.

When the concrete parapets and metal guardrails are unable to save lives and limbs, they would look like – rightly or wrongly –they are there for decorative purposes only! So far, the safety barriers at the Skyway have proven to be ineffective.

It is important to point out that the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), which has jurisdiction over the Skyway, has not addressed the safety issues since December 16, 2013 when a speeding Don Mariano Transit bus plunged down from the elevated expressway and killed 21 people. This in spite of the purported concern of President Aquino about the spate of road accidents that began a month ago in early February.

Likewise, Nothing has been done by the TRB that is supposed to have a “Safety Consultant,” who is the former chief of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transportation Franchising & Regulatory Board (LTFRB). The same person later became the Undersecretary of the Department of Transportation & Communications (DoTC), which has jurisdiction over TRB, under the previous Arroyo administration.

Thus far, the only thing that the national government has done is to blame the drivers for the accidents – from former DoTC Undersecretary Alberto Suansing who is now TRB “Safety Consultant” to DWPH Secretary Rogelio “Babes” Singson and even Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda. It seems that the three gentlemen have already spoken to each other and are now saying the same thing.

Ms. Gamil, the Inquirer reporter told me the other day that even MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino is of the same opinion. This is perhaps what you can call the “proper coordination for a unified position.” Just like what the three opposition senators charged with plunder have allegedly done in relation to their PDAF, the officials of the Aquino government now must have a common “template” for their script singing the same chorus.

However, the officials of the Aquino administration do not need to sing the same tune. Stage 1 of the Skyway (up to Bicutan) was built during the Ramos presidency, while Stage 2 (up to Sucat and Alabang) was completed during the last few years of the Arroyo government. So there is really NO NEED for PNoy’s people to be defensive since Stages 1 and 2 of the Skyway were built before them.

They should have addressed the issue of vehicles falling down the Skyway instead of the ludicrous line of doing the “blame game.”

It is amazing that the GMA News TV reporter, Ms. Mirasol Abdurahman, who also later interviewed me after the Inquirer did, and Ms. Jessica Soho, anchor of the State of the Nation news program, have a better appreciation of the facts with their analyses through their report and commentary.

The two professional journalists have a better grasp of the Skyway safety issues than the former DoTC Undersecretaty who is now TRB’S “Safety Consultant,” the DPWH Secretary and the pathetic resurrected presidential spokesman.

rbrpilipinas@gmail.com

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