Bus drivers' race ends in death of professor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 May, 2011, 12:00am


The Philippines presidential palace has ordered a crackdown on reckless bus drivers after a highly-respected professor was killed when a street race between two buses ended when one collided with the taxi in which she was a passenger.

The government put up a 100,000 pesos (HK$17,998) reward for the arrest of a bus driver and conductor who fled on foot after the collision that killed Lourdes Estella-Simbulan, 53, a journalism professor at a university in the Philippines.

Friday's accident occurred on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon city, commonly known as the 'killer highway' for its high accident rate. It has a 60km/h speed limit.

'There are two buses here. One sideswiped the side mirror,' Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Francis Tolentino said. 'Another rammed the back of the taxi cab.'

The government has suspended operations of bus owner Universal Guiding Star Bus Lines Corp. The whereabouts or the name of the other bus company was not known.

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said President Benigno Aquino had called for 'severe measures' imposed against drivers who violated traffic rules. Days before the accident, the president had launched a 10-year road safety action plan.

Simbulan's husband, Roland, said yesterday that the bus company told him it would foot all funeral expenses, but he refused their offer.

He recalled the last thing his wife told him, on Friday the 13th. As usual, she had shared with him her horoscope. 'Something will happen today that is ... life-changing.'

He expressed the hope that her death would cause 'the government [to] enforce its traffic rules more strictly, including against smoke-belchers'.

The nation's capital has numerous traffic safety laws which are hardly implemented, concluded a 2007 Asian Development Bank study.

The same study noted the under-reporting of traffic accidents. Grim statistics show that from January to May 2009 alone, MMDA recorded that buses were involved in 10 accidents daily or 300 monthly.

Advocates of traffic safety blamed the proliferation of buses (some 3,600 in all), ill-trained and undisciplined drivers paid low wages and the seeming ability of bus operators to escape criminal liability.

Residents of the mega-city of 15 million people have largely accepted that in Manila, commuting means death far too often.

Dr Shin Young-soo, World Health Organisation regional director for the Western Pacific, said last week that 'many countries see traffic accidents as an inevitable part of everyday life, but they're not. These ... are predictable and can often be prevented.'

Known in the industry as Chit Estella, she was managing editor of The Manila Times, and was a board trustee of Vera Files, a group of investigative journalists.