17 killed in Antique bus cliff accident

The Ceres Liner bus, with 28 passengers on board, was traveling from Iloilo City to Antique when its brakes malfunctioned, police investigation says.

By: Carla Gomez December 07,2023 - 09:21 AM


DANGER ZONE | Rescuers took 11 hours to recover all the passengers from a Ceres commuter bus that veered off the road and plunged down a cliff in Hamtic town, Antique province, on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 5, 2023, leaving 17 people dead. Seven passengers were still in critical condition as of Wednesday. (Photo from Iloilo City Emergency Responders)

ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — Seventeen people were killed in a tragic accident when a passenger bus careered off what locals say a “killer curve” road and plunged down an 18-meter ravine in Hamtic town in Antique.

Based on the latest report from the Antique provincial government, seven people were in critical condition in different hospitals in Iloilo, while four others were in stable condition, as of Wednesday afternoon. According to police investigation, the Ceres Liner bus, with 28 passengers on board, was traveling from Iloilo City to Antique when its brakes malfunctioned.

“It’s a tragic disaster,” Antique Gov. Rhodora Cadiao said in a phone interview.

The bus fell into a ravine at Barangay Igbucagay in Hamtic at 4:30 p.m., with some passengers pinned under the vehicle, making it difficult to get them out.

It took 11 hours for local rescue groups led by the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council to retrieve all survivors and fatalities from the wreckage.

Hero inspector

At 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the last body removed from the bus was that of Ceres bus inspector Jose Glen Fandagani, who was hailed as a hero for saving the life of elementary school teacher Mica Marie Servano.

Servano, who teaches at Lindero Elementary School in Tobias Fornier town, told the governor that Fandagani had protected her by shielding her with his body as the bus fell.

Cadiao, quoting the schoolteacher, said the bus had stopped upon reaching the “Welcome to Antique” landmark, and both the driver Ricky Serios, 39, and Fandagani got out to check the engine before resuming the trip.

James Ibanez, a bystander, said the Ceres bus appeared to be in distress before the fall.

He said the bus had attempted to overtake another vehicle before losing control and crashing through the barrier, falling into the cliff.

Among the dead were Serios, Fandagani, conductor Wilmar Marcelino and inspector Jevy Burdago, said Senior Master Sergeant Oliver Villanueva, Hamtic police chief investigator.

Also killed were two foreigners, Federica Singh of India and Patrick Mosumi, a missionary worker from Kenya, one of four Kenyan nationals who were among the passengers.

The other fatalities were identified as Wilbur de Llava, Jim Andrie Secondes, Nelson Espina, Francis John Vuelga, Fritzie Javellana, Zairon Alcala, Ramon Salvani, Janine Marquez, Jomarie Alcala and Tom Elizaga.

A male fatallity, believed to be between 29 and 35, remained unidentified.

Design fault

According to Cadiao, the site of the accident was known as a killer curve, where many other vehicles had fallen off.

The governor said she had reported the accident-prone area to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Regional Development Council.

“I would like to believe that that road has a design fault. The DPWH should study very hard why vehicles are prone to accidents in that area alone,” Cadiao said.

In 2018, three buses fell into the same ravine in separate accidents, claiming the lives of around 30 people.

The following year, a similar incident happened in the same spot, leaving three dead and seven injured.

Roderick Train, head of the Antique Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Office, said the area had become a “black spot” after traffic signs were removed during a road-widening project and never placed back. “There are no warning signs in that area now,” he said.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) on Wednesday said it suspended for 30 days the entire fleet of 15 Ceres buses plying the Iloilo City to Caticlan town, Aklan route, which passes Antique’s San Jose and Pandan towns.

Vallacar Transit Inc. (VTI), the owner of Ceres Bus Liner, apologized for the accident, saying it had dispatched its personnel to assist victims and reported the matter promptly to the LTFRB.

“In coordination with the LTFRB Region 6, the management has decided to voluntarily suspend all operations of the 12 remaining units under the franchise involving Case No. 11-VI-021-AK pending investigation, wherein the bus involved in the incident had been a part of,” it added.

VTI promised to provide financial assistance to the passengers and their families and to shoulder their medical or burial expenses.

“Rest assured that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that this is being handled properly and carefully. The management guarantees the riding public that we are taking all the appropriate steps to ensure that our buses are roadworthy and well-maintained,” it added.

“If it was our fault, then we will not keep that to ourselves,” said Jade Marquez, VTI’s media relations officer.

LTFRB Chair Teofilo Guadiz III said: “We will be looking into the ledgers in the terminal to check the bus’ condition before it leaves, and of course, we will also look into the condition of the driver.”

Seminar, drug testing

LTFRB Regional Director Richard Osmeña directed VTI to inspect and determine the roadworthiness of all their buses, and to arrange a road safety seminar and compulsory drug testing of their drivers and conductors to be conducted by an authorized or accredited agency of the Department of Health and the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

He also ordered VTI to submit the certificate of registration and the latest LTO official receipt of their buses, submit video clips of the roadworthiness inspection and Road Safety Seminar, as well as present the closed-circuit television footage and dash cam of the bus involved in the accident.

VTI was also ordered to explain in writing within 72 hours why their certificate of public convenience should not be suspended, canceled, and/or revoked.

Cadiao also assured the victims that the provincial government would provide aid, including an initial P20,000 in financial assistance to each of the fatalities’ families.

READ MORE: Antique Governor Cadiao clarifies 17 dead in Ceres bus accident

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