MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 19 Dec) – It is possible that Rural Transit Mindanao, Inc. (RTMI)’s control over the bus transportation service in Bukidnon contributed to the company’s alleged lapses in security, Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. said.
Zubiri said it might be time to consider allowing other operators to come in, as it is one issue raised to him by his callers in his regular weekly program “Isumbong Mo Kay Gov” (Report it to the Governor) last Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Zubiri lamented in his radio program RTMI’s denial that the motive of the December 9 bombing near the main gate of Central Mindanao University was extortion, this despite an Army officer’s revelation that an RTMI representative did reveal extortion threats during a Regional Peace and Order Council meeting in Cagayan de Oro City last week.
Ten persons were killed and a total of 44 others were wounded in the Dec. 9 explosion in Maramag town as bus number 2640 just left the gate of Central Mindanao University to pick up students hurrying up to get home. Although earlier reports said 42 were injured, two more were added to the list last Wednesday during a forum held to release the insurance payment and local government assistance for the families of the victims.
Zubiri added that with RTMI’s silence on the extortion threat, he might urge the opening of Bukidnon to new bus operators so RTMI will shape up. He said he knew of the extortion threats sent via text messages to RTMI officials lately.
He said the moratorium on new franchises for bus operations should be lifted in Bukidnon.
Lawyer Ariel Inton, member of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) who supervised the release of insurance claims of the families of the victims, said Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) is studying to lift the moratorium on bus franchises, which has been implemented since 1995.
He said lifting the moratorium will depend on the increase in population and the development of certain areas that would now require more public transportation. Inton said DOTC is now studying which areas should be open for new franchises.
“We will take note of the concerns [raised by Zubiri] in Bukidnon. What makes us lift the moratorium is public demand – the need for transportation,” he added.
But he admitted that they are very careful about lifting the moratorium because it might cause “over supply.”
Zubiri said he will urge the Bukidnon provincial board to pass a resolution urging Congress to lift moratorium.
He said he will seek a “special case” for Bukidnon because there is only one major bus operator in the province.
Zubiri cited the lax security measures of RTMI as possibly an effect of lack of competition.
He admitted that “in fairness” to the bus company, they have employed security guards in the bus terminal. But he said there is a need to do more.
Zubiri announced that Bukidnon will operate six checkpoints for those entering Bukidnon starting early 2015 just like in Davao City.
He said RTMI is mum on the issue of extortion as the possible motive behind the bombing even if police briefed him of their alleged payment of extortion money.
Zubiri said RTMI management has denied any call, text or letter on extortion. But Zubiri said information from the Bukidnon Provincial Police Office said RTMI approached them on the matter of extortion.
He added that the bombing cannot possibly be the handiwork of rebel groups.
“This was not the work of the rebels. I believe it was extortion,” he said but added that RTMI is not telling the truth about it.
Zubiri said if the purpose was to terrorize, the perpetrators could have done it on a bigger scale.
“If their purpose was to instill fear why not during our Centennial celebration in September where over 200,000 were around?” he stressed.
Jessie Lentorio, RTMI administrative officer who was present in the December 17 forum in Malaybalay City, denied that there was any confirmation from RTMI about the extortion angle. He refused to give further comment except to say “it was the governor’s opinion.”
He told the forum that the company will add more security guards and will do more inspections using metal detectors He added that they will implement a one-door policy for non-airconditioned buses.
Mandangan Darimbang, of LTFRB-10, said all bus operators in the region signed to adhere to its issuance for designated loading and unloading areas with police personnel to frisk passengers and inspect cargo, to tag bags like in airports, and to train personnel for anti-crime capabilities.
A family member of one of those who died suggested that RTMI should minimize overloading its buses with many standing passengers. Lentorio said they will try to control it but oftentimes, it is the passengers who insist.
Most of the families of the victims who spoke in the forum cited RTMI’s prompt response to their burial and hospitalization needs although some decried that the bus company should really be honest on the extortion issue.
Jaime Valiente, a businessman and father of Kim Lloyd Valiente, a student of CMU, who was among the 10 killed in the bombing, said RTMI should have really reported the extortion threat to police.
“Extortion is not only a concern of the company, it is the concern of the community,” he added.