THE VOICE: Culture of Disaster Strikes Again

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/02 March)–Vans plying the Cotabato-Davao route are not fast-moving vehicles…they are low-flying coffins. Nobody’s really given a damn about it. Until now.

Accounts abound as to how the vehicular accident involving a passenger van in Pikit, North Cotabato just this Friday really happened.  But that’s already the end of the story.  The real story lies in the series of events that led to this man-made disaster, another manifestation of the culture of disaster.

The following is just a short list.  Please feel free to add:

1) Passenger vans have proliferated in the Cotabato-Davao route in the last five years.  This privately operated business compensates for the lack of a government public transport system.

2) Operating passenger vans is a lucrative business.  With vague government regulations on van fares, operators are relatively free to dictate through their own cartels on how much the public should be paying.

3) Because nobody checks on the carrying capacity of passenger vans, four people are squeezed in a row designed for three, plus extension seats are added.

4) The hazy distinction between passenger vans and vans-for-hire complicate the competition for passengers and space on the road.

5) The lucrative nature of this unregulated business also provides a lucrative source of income for anybody who can provide space for van terminals that are also unregulated.

6) This lucrative nature also extends to traffic enforcers who instead of checking operators’ licenses, road safety, speed and the number of passengers inside the van, are establishing rapport with operators and drivers with pansigarilyo (for cigarette) and other forms of bribery.

7) Drug tests for van drivers are non-existent with the unregulated nature of the business; thus providing a free flow of the drug route. (Editor’s note: Drug tests for drivers are mandatory only during renewal or application for driver’s permit.)

8)  With media so engrossed with the peace process and politics (election season notwithstanding), little space is left for road safety and other seemingly irrelevant issues which if summed up occupies a much bigger space than the first two P’s.

9) What’s with field trips that pump people’s adrenaline up? An eyewitness related that the young people inside this particular van were jeering and giving their thumbs up sign after overtaking other vehicles.  Shouldn’t schools also give safety briefings to the drivers and the students before letting them go on and risk their lives with great abandon?

10) Where are the parents?  I know we are all at the height of grieving and say it’s not a time to blame.  Forgive me this early.  Again some sense has to be knocked into our comfort zones for us to wake up.  Have we as parents really inculcated in the minds of our children how to stay safe on the road?  The concepts of Yin-Yang?  How too much excitement and euphoria usually brings in the equivalent intensity of negative energies?  That they too, have the right to tell the driver to drive carefully?

Previous vehicular accidents should have already pierced the collective consciousness of the public. I still wonder if this Pikit incident would really wake us all up.  But the culture of disaster continues.  (We are not yet talking about the devil drivers plying the squeaking new concrete highway from Cotabato to Lebak.  Accounts say that recent vehicular accident-related deaths in the area were just negotiated by the operators).

It is enraging to think that while government is so inept in addressing this issue, we citizens have not done enough as well.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Aveen Acuña-Gulo wrote an editorial column “The Voice” for the Mindanao Cross from 1991-2006. She likes to challenge stereotypes.  “Don’t worry about my opinions,” she says.  “It won’t make a dent to the conventional.”)