By Saul E. Pa-a
TANAY, Rizal, Feb. 21 (PNA) — The number of fatalities in the bus accident in Tanay, Rizal Monday morning rose to 15 on Tuesday, a report of the Calabarzon Office of Civil Defense (OCD) showed.
Meanwhile, tearful reunions among families and relatives of the fatalities and some 40 survivors took place earlier today at funeral homes and hospitals where the injured are confined after the tragic road mishap in Sitio Bayukan, Barangay Sampaloc in Tanay, Rizal.
Parents of the college students who perished in the accident were furious and expressed regrets they signed the school waivers for their students to join the field trip at Tanay’s Adventure Camp as a National Service Training Program (NSTP) and graduation requirement.
Other relatives disclosed their children earlier informed them it was mandatory to join the educational trip for fear of being given failing grades or barred from joining the graduation this March.
Of the 15 fatalities including the bus driver, a student was reported to be the family’s breadwinner; another was a working student while another was a returning OFW who resumed her studies to finally earn a college degree.
At Mahar Funeral Homes in Novaliches, Quezon City where 14 remains were brought, parents who trooped to claim their loved ones’ bodies were furious, blaming the management of the Bestlink College of the Philippines also in Novaliches, where the students studied.
They questioned the school management for pushing with the field trip that led to the tragedy a few kilometers from the campsite and the Peligrino Farm in Barangay Sampaloc, Tanay.
Thirteen (13) of the remains of the students were already claimed by parents Tuesday after learning the school management’s alleged miserable treatment of the bereaved families and slow action to their plight.
There was a report of a 16th fatality – that of a Muslim student whose body was said to be immediately buried following Muslim tradition – but this remains unconfirmed.
The 15th body that was brought to the San Isidro Memorial Homes in Tanay, Rizal was later identified as that of 23-year-old Emmangel Garinto whose parents Emma and Angel traveled all the way from Matnog, Sorsogon to the funeral parlor to identify their son’s body.
The common-law wife Aniceta Asireta of bus driver Julian Lacorda whose lone remains were left at the funeral parlor, recalled that she and Lacorda exchanged text messages 30 minutes before the accident.
Asireta said Julian was a long-time and experienced provincial bus driver and did not mention any untoward incident or anything wrong with the bus until she lost contact with her husband around 9 a.m.
She also sought understanding from the student victims and families as she too felt grief-stricken for the loss of Julian who she said could not be blamed for the accident.
Zanny Samsona, Bestlink College school activities coordinator, assured the college management’s assistance to the families of the victims although he denied forcing the students to join the trip and confirmed the participants submitted their waivers before joining the survival training seminar.
Meanwhile, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has ordered the cancellation of any scheduled field trip, educational tour or off-campus activities of all collegiate schools, colleges and universities in the country effective immediately as the latest bus tragedy is under investigation.
CHED officials are also set to review the collegiate policy on the National Service Training Program as a curricular requirement for higher education institutions.
Engr. Inofre Carlos, head of the Tanay Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO), said they are also inspecting the accident area to make sure road signs are in place as the terrain is uphill.
Carlos also said they are now coordinating with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) district engineers for any improvement on road worthiness and safety to avoid a repeat of the tragic accident.
The bus wreckage and accident site were blessed by a priest who officiated in the candle-light memorial ceremony for the victims and the crumpled vehicle was later removed from the area after the solemn rites.
Tanay police also confirmed there could be break malfunction in the bus although student passengers who survived the accident smelt of burnt rubber while they were traversing the area.
Police are now investigating the civil liability of the bus company and the school management’s accountability and responsibility to their students as the event happened as a school activity requirement.
The injured victims are still confined at the Rizal Provincial Hospital-Morong; Amang Rodriguez memorial Hospital and Philippine Orthopedic Center although the families have sought assistance that their patients be moved to better equipped hospitals especially those who have to undergo major surgeries and post-accident trauma treatments.