In a span of less than four weeks, I visited the wakes of two well-known individuals: teen actor AJ Perez (Christ the King Parish, April 19), and UP journalism professor Lourdes “Chit” Simbulan (Arlington Memorial, May 14). The first one is a rising star in the entertainment industry, while the second one is an award-winning veteran journalist who has been in the business for over three decades. I am a big fan of AJ Perez, and I am one of Prof. Simbulan’s former students in UP. The two probably do not know each other, for they are in different fields, but the thread that links them together is their cause of death. Investigations are still ongoing for both accidents, but it is apparent that their untimely demise could have been avoided.

Merely two days before the fateful road mishap that claimed Prof. Simbulan’s life, the Department of Public Works and Highways officially launched in the Philippines the start of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety from year 2011 to 2020. In launching this global initiative, the United Nations General Assembly aims to “to stabilize and then reduce the forecast level of road traffic fatalities around the world.”

A statement on the program’s website soberly reminds people that everyday around the world, 3,500 people “leave home and never return because they have been suddenly and violently killed in a road crash.” The accident that killed Perez happened on his way home to Manila after a show in Dagupan, Pangasinan. He even twitted that it will be a “long drive ahead” for his party. Meanwhile, Prof. Simbulan rode a cab to take her to UP Ayala Techno Hub for a meet-up with high school friends from Tandang Sora, Quezon City. The trip that should’ve been only ten minutes took a deadly turn when an overspeeding bus rammed into the said taxi.

The United Nations noted that “these tragic deaths and the misery and grief they cause” can be prevented if “measures are taken by governments, police, health practitioners and all road users to improve safety.” Top Gear magazine reported late last year, citing figures from Metro Manila Development Authority and Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group, that at least 14,000 road accidents were recorded from January to October 2010, resulting in 380 deaths. Most of these are caused by avoidable human error, like overspeeding and failure to follow traffic rules.

These figures may be telling, but as the Asian Development Bank’s National Road Safety Plan noted in 2005, “there is a serious problem on the underreporting of traffic accidents by the police” and that an efficient road accident data system is “simply not yet available in the Philippines.” In effect, “there is a gross underreporting of the number of (car accident) fatalities.”

Road accidents, even deadly ones, have lost its shock value among the public through the years. Because they happen all too frequently, we seem to have regarded these as just-another-news-item, if news executives even deem those as newsworthy. The death of Prof. Simbulan opened up a number of issues, from the lack of discipline among motorists and inefficiency of traffic enforcers, to misplaced footbridges, concrete barriers, and U-turn slots, and the prevailing living conditions of bus drivers.

Despite their 34-year age gap, both AJ Perez and Lourdes Simbulan would have done many more wonderful things had their life not been cut short by avoidable road accidents. The good thing is, their deaths should serve as an eye-opener for us on what has to be done to reduce the number of lives lost due to car mishaps.

 

Sources:

ADB-ASEAN Regional Board Safety Program-National Road Safety Action Plan 2005-2010. http://www.adb.org/Documents/Reports/Arrive-Alive/Action-Plans/action-plan-07-phi.pdf

Lorenzo, Anna Barbara. Safety advocates reveal alarming number of road accidents in RP. Top Gear Magazine (October 13, 2010)

Tadeo, Patrick Everett. UN’s Decade of Action for Road Safety launched globally today. Top Gear Magazine (May 11, 2011)

United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. http://www.decadeofaction.org/believe/index.html.