This time it’s personal

Chit Estella, VERA Files Trustee, 54.

[Blogger’s note: Here’s another one from Arnold Tenorio, who wrote this editorial for the Manila Times. Arnold was able to meet Chit Estella when he was a reporter for BusinessWorld, he told me in a text message. He wrote a story on how Ms. Estella and fellow Manila Times staffers resigned in protest after the paper’s owner ran an apology regarding the story about ex-President Joseph Estrada’s involvement in a power plant deal. Picture above is from VERA Files. See: VERA Files. ]

AS we feared, the country’s so-called killer highway has claimed another life, and this time around, it hit closer to home.
On Friday night, fellow journalist and University of the Philippine professor Ma. Lourdes Estella-Simbulan, or Chit to family and friends, succumbed to severe injuries caused by a bus that rammed through the taxi she was riding on along Commonwealth Avenue. She was coming from UP on her way to meet friends for a get-together at the Ayala Techno-Hub.
First of all, we extend our condolences to her surviving kin, including her husband, noted anti-nuclear activist and UP professor, Rolando Simbulan. We lament the loss of an esteemed colleague in the journalism profession who had promoted good governance. Chit was a founding member of VERA Files, an investigative news outfit, and before that managing editor of The Manila Times and thereafter editor-in-chief of Pinoy Times.
It is ironic that a member of the poor — who stood to benefit the most from Chit’s advocacy — had dealt the blow that took her life.
According to news reports, the driver of the Universal Guiding Star bus that crashed into the taxi bearing Chit had been racing with a second unidentified bus before the deadly incident happened.
If the incident happened late into the night or maybe in the wee hours of the morning, then we wouldn’t be so surprised at the behavior of the bus drivers concerned. In fact, many accidents along Commonwealth happen during those unholy hours when traffic enforcers of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) can hardly be seen.
The shocking news is that the incident happened at six in the evening or during rush hour. The million-peso question is, what happened to the MMDA’s full-court press to make Commonwealth a safer and more orderly road for motorists and commuters? If the witness accounts were accurate, then why were two buses racing like hell along Commonwealth at about the time when the MMDA was supposedly at its most vigilant?
To recall, the MMDA’s vaunted traffic scheme along Commonwealth involved the deployment of enforcers particularly during rush hour and equipping them with speed guns. This was on top of the closed-circuit TV units installed to monitor compliance with the 60-kilometer speed limit.
Don’t get us wrong. The Times was among the first to commend the new leadership at the MMDA for its efforts, which appear more sensible than the traffic measures implemented by the previous administration.
Pending an investigation by the MMDA, we can surmise that the daylight tragedy that took Chit’s life undescores the obvious logistical limitations of the agency tasked with imposing some rhyme and reason on Metro Manila’s streets. But if this unwarranted loss was caused by negligent enforcers whose visibility could have discouraged bus-racing along Commonwealth, then the MMDA leadership should let the axe fall.
Beyond the issue of logistics, Chit’s death highlights the urgent need to review the grant of licenses to public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers. It should be impressed upon PUV drivers that their license, like the franchises of their operators, is a public trust that regulators can withhold at the slightest injury to the riding public and other motorists.
The indiscriminate issuance of licenses particularly to PUV drivers points to the need to restrict the grant of this badge of public trust, on top of efforts to eradicate corruption at the Land Transporation Office (LTO). In countries with rational traffic policies, violators are meted heavy penalties, if not barred from returning to the streets behind the wheel for months, or even years.
The time has come for PUV license applicants to pass a more stringent test involving among others, their literacy level and psychological profile. Obviously, the simplistic equation of drug users as bad drivers has not prevented the deadliest vehicular incidents on Metro Manila’s streets. Holding in one’s hands the fate of other people requires a more stable emotional disposition than what we usually observe among PUV drivers.
Anecdotal evidence on prime-time news also has shown that many PUV drivers don’t even know what the yield sign stands for. Poverty shouldn’t be used as an excuse to grant every Tom, Dick or Harry a driver’s license. Driving should not be a recourse for the illiterate.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, the LTO should undertake an inventory of PUV drivers’ licenses isused so far, screen the recipients, and if need be, cancel those issued to recalcitrant traffic violators. Having done this, bus operators should be required to check the backgrounds of driver-applicants and refuse employment to those who don’t receive a seal of safety from the LTO.
Apart from regulators, the public at large should help police the ranks of PUV drivers and their operators. With the popularity of outdoor advertising, companies and other entities should desist from placing ads on bus companies with bad traffic records.
In turn, the commuting public and other motorists should boycott the products or services of companies that insist on placing ads with bus firms having notorious traffic records.
We cannot even begin to count the cost of Chit’s untimely demise. Let’s not allow her death go to waste.