SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
The House committee on transportation chaired by Rep. Cesar Sarmiento (Lone District, Catanduanes) has approved the creation of a technical working group (TWG) that will fine-tune a bill seeking to increase the safety of school buses.
The TWG, to be chaired by Rep. Carlo Lopez (2nd District, Manila), will finalize House Bill 757, authored by Rep. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar (Party-list, DIWA), seeking to professionalize the country’s school bus system and mandate the installation of security features in school buses.
The bill provides for significant changes in the proficiency standards or special licensing of school bus drivers and conductors. It also adds a provision for emergency exits and equipment on buses.
The bill qualifies a school bus as a motor vehicle, but not a trailer, designed to carry 10 or more persons. It is used for purposes that include carrying students to and from public or private school or school-related events on a regular basis. This excludes transit buses or school-chartered buses.
The measure mandates that before drivers and conductors are issued a special license to drive or operate school buses, they must first complete certification programs to be facilitated by the Department of Transportation (DOTr). This includes a course on basic first and emergency protocols; a course on security management; and a course on proper management and child behavior.
Seat belts for drivers and passengers will also be a required feature of school buses, and should be installed not later than a year after the bill is enacted into law.
The bill also mandates buses to have emergency exit doors other than the regular ingress/egress door. Emergency equipment such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, emergency lights and other safety features should be stored within the vehicle.
Resource persons reported to the committee the current state of school bus operations. Operators began to phase out side-facing seats in favor of front-facing seats in 2013, and began accepting UV Express vehicles with front-facing seats. Fire extinguishers and first aid kits are now also stored in the vehicles.
Drivers are also subjected to the same standards and qualification process as other public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers. School bus operators now also require “bus mothers”, an assistant who will help the children carry their bags on and off the vehicle, according to the resource persons.
Efren de Luna, president of Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations (ACTO), voiced his support for HB 757. He said most school bus service owners are members of ACTO.
“Makatarungan lamang po na talagang magkaroon ng special driver's license ang mga driver ng school bus. At iyong mga requirement po na itinalaga na part ng modernization ng pagbabago ng klase ng mga school bus, sumasang-ayon po tayo doon,” he said.
During the hearing, Rep. Batocabe (Party-list, AKO BICOL) questioned how HB 757 can be harmonized with a bill previously filed that already requires vehicles to have child seats for children below 12 years old.
“We are talking about protection of our children. And yet we are only requiring seatbelts? Kung nire-require nga natin ‘yung private vehicles ng child seat for 12 years and under, ngayon bakit di natin nire-require mag-child seat ang mga school bus?” he asked.
Aglipay-Villar acknowledged that the bill currently does not require child seats. She suggested it would be better if child seats were first approved as a requirement for all vehicles, so that the same requirement would automatically be covered to HB 757 as well.
In light of the need to further deliberate on the measure, the committee ruled to refer HB 757 to a TWG that will fine-tune it in harmony with other measures. / CMBE